And Onwards

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As I have a little less than a week left in this little city, I thought I’d post a little collection of some of my favourite things. As much for my recollection as anything.

St Gallen is a long, thin city that sits in a valley which runs, eventually, down to Lake Bodensee. You can see Germany from the top of the hill that runs up from my flat to the nearest fresh milk.

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From almost anywhere in the city you can walk for 20 or so minutes and find yourself in the middle of fields.

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This means fantastic walks in almost any direction.

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At the top of the hills to the south are the Dreilinden lakes where you can swim for free (it’s a rare thing here) in the summer:

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It’s a city of many stairs leading from each level of the city to the next:

A city of stars at Christmastime:

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and where the Christmas tree arrives by Harry Potter helicopter each year:

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And bus- and tram-lines that extend a spider-web of electricity cables over most of the city.

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If you look closely in the top mirror, you can see (upside-down) a reflection of a favourite restaurant, Focacceria.

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And just in case you accidentally find yourself in St Gallen (let’s face it, it’s not exactly on the way to anywhere), here are a couple of places that I’ve enjoyed over the past three years.

Kaffeehaus, Linsebühlstrasse 77 is one of my favourite places. It’s a few minutes walk from the centre of the old town, but it’s conveniently on my way into (and out of) town. It doesn’t hustle, it doesn’t bustle, it’s the perfect place to go to to clear your head. The owner’s quirky style (including piano, trumpet candle-sticks and industrial right-there-in-the-café coffee bean roaster) is just my taste and the coffee is fantastic. I could sit there for hours (and have done), letting the world go by without my participation.

Another coffee shop for a nice but livelier atmosphere is Franz, on the same road but closer to the city, Linsebühlstrasse 35. They also have a garden that’s open in summer and gooooood cakes.

By far my favourite bar is La Buena Onda (Lämmlisbrunnenstrasse 51). Again, quirky style, and as it’s a little way out of the main city (but still conveniently close to my flat) it doesn’t get completely packed out. It seems to attract the non-Swiss locals as well, which makes for a nice atmosphere. And there’s a piano.


There are other places too of course, the Egyptian falafel man in the market place (seriously good) the Abbey is impressive, the library, museums et cetera, et cetera.
I know I’ve complained about you along the way, St Gallen, you might be at the wrong end of the country, you might be a bit on the small side for a city, but it’s been a good ride.

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Sunday Evening

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Our car was one of a hundred, a thousand perhaps; like a stream of ants going between waypoints, with nothing to do on the way except ensure that the journey is uninterrupted. Back towards the anthill we marched, and if ants can’t plug in a Walkman and sing along to Tom Waits as they drive it’s only a minor discrepancy. I wonder if ants ever look up at the landscape and objects that they pass, and see that the sun – the first proper sun of spring – is casting a receding golden wash over the top storeys of the taller buildings.
A combination of the sunlight and the grainy booze-infused portal to Tom’s world – a world where the carpet needs a haircut and the piano’s been on the sauce – made me say “Let’s get out and walk for a bit.” And so this particular ant swung out of the column and into a side street. I cut Tom off mid-growl and we left the car and took the flight of steps opposite two at a time. Some internal reserve of energy that I didn’t know about seemed to have been activated by the evening’s somewhat expectant calm. The air whispered, waiting for spring’s tendrils to start pushing through the remains of winter.

The city lies in a valley, the old centre spread across the flat of the valley floor, while the hill sides to north and south are arrayed with fine houses and tall trees watching over the spires and towers and little roof-top terraces, looking out across rural urbia to the hill on the other side. From the winding cobbley street below, the layers upon layers of houses that climb the hills glare stoically, sombrely down. Standing guard. Always watching.
Roads wind up the hill sides, but in between and crammed into the gaps between the houses are flights of wooden-edged stairs. I lost track of how many flights we climbed, chasing the sun’s departing rays. They had already left the tallest towers of the lower city. We had to search higher.

When my breath was clawing like nails at my lungs, I stopped to look back at the city. Fairy lights were wound along a balcony rail below me, even though the sky was still light, and the almost-full moon hung in the branches of a bare, knobbly beech tree like a pale grapefruit. The top of the southern hill opposite – my hill – crested with bristly larch and bottle-brush spruce was turning slowly from green to grey.

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We followed the streets and stairs still further, to the layer of the city before the top, and came out opposite a wall guarding the muddy garden of a monstrous, square white house that squatted on top of the hill like a Vogon settled defiantly in the garden of Eden. Over the Vogon’s shoulder, however, were tantalising wisps of pink cloud promising something far more spectacular. The view from on-tiptoes, on-the-wall, was still unsatisfying. So we took the last flight of stairs and marched up a gravel path until the sky to north and west was as open as it can be in such hilly country.

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We had missed the sun – it couldn’t have been expected to stick around while we climbed 200 or so feet up the hill to see it off – but it had left several thin ribbons of golden fire floating above the hills where it had gone down. The trails of aeroplanes far above shone like little glow-worms. The sky above the hills went from purest gold on the horizon to a greyish winter-blue above us, and fantastic rose and dusky purple clouds crept in from above the lake which lay, unseen, away to our right. The swirls and ripples looked so contrived that in a film it would be mistaken for a lazy CGI job. I said “If we painted this now, exactly as it is, no-one would believe us. They’d say we exaggerated it for effect.”
The strips of gold floated higher and their light began to diffuse. The pink clouds inched closer to the gold. Three teenagers passed behind us, chattering in clipped dialect. Voices high, jeans low. The magic broke. We headed back down the hill.

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The street lights had come on now, like more fairy-lights draped along the streets of a toy town. A couple of snowy mountains peered through a gap in the hills. I wanted to push the hills back so that Säntis had a better view. I watched my feet carefully on the stairs. If I tripped and fell, I might knock over the cathedral, or crash through the carefully-placed little streets and houses.

We didn’t follow the same route back, so as the houses grew once again to full size around us, we turned down a back road and into an unlit street. All of the buildings in the row were dark except for one room, from which light, veiled by semi-transparent gauze curtains, spilled. Muffled swing music seeped out of the room too, and I stopped level with one of the curtained windows. Once my eyes had agreed to ignore the gauze and look into the room beyond, I could see the couples dancing, and the sports hall, the mirror on the opposite wall and exercise balls on a rack above it.

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“That… looks like Lindy Hop” I said. I’m not an expert, but we were taken to a taster lesson by a friend in the area once, and the movements of the dance were distinctive. He laughed and said “It is Lindy Hop!” and we stared some more. I pointed at a large, slightly brooding figure at the far end of the hall: “And that looks like…” He stepped nearer and peered more closely through the curtain. “Yes! It is!” he said. We looked at each other and laughed at the strange serendipity of the moment. The music stopped and the women all moved one partner anti-clockwise. Now that he was standing still we could see more clearly. “And that girl… she was in the group that I was in the mountains with the other week!”
When the music started again we tried to recall the dance steps, but the dancers, far more advanced than we were, gave few clues to the basic steps that we’d been taught. Eventually he hopped over the fence at the side of the building and ran up the sloping path to a small uncurtained window, floor-level on the outside, but high up in the inner sports hall wall. “You can see better from here.” We crouched down and watched, looking like children that hadn’t been invited to the party. “It’s the same teacher we had!” I’d already seen. He was hard to forget. Pale hair and skin; a t-shirt, trousers and a boater-style hat on his head, even when walking, he moved with grace and purpose.
The music, slightly tinny, came through an air-vent a few metres away on the wall, and we attempted the steps again, trying not to stumble off the narrow path into the damp soil beside it.

Eventually I said “You know, we still have to cook this evening.” We climbed back over the fence and ran the rest of the way along the street, feeling like naughty children who have been spying on their elders. We skipped back to the car. The stream of ants was smaller now. We rejoined it and headed back to our anthill.

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Inhabiting A Stereotype

I thought I’d start off the year with something ramble-based rather than sewing-based to indicate my intention of not being a completely sewing-based blog – I seem to have done the opposite of diversify my blog  (whatever that’s called) since I started sewing.

So welcome to the inside of my head.

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Autumn Elders

Now, I tend to get excited about the elder trees in late spring, when their dusty, creamy flowers promise oodles of flavour to add to gin, vodka or cordial to name but a few. I have to admit that I didn’t even know that the berries were anything special, or even edible. I was brought up to be wary of berries that you weren’t 100% sure about, and although I loved eating sloes in front of school friends who were convinced that they were poisonous (along with pulling the flowers off dead nettles and chasing some of my more gullible class-mates), my knowledge of autumn’s berries didn’t extend much further than that.

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Continue reading “Autumn Elders”

Winter Wonderland

Ugh, things have piled up again in the last week, and so my backlog-clearing attempt hasn’t gained much ground. I climbed more in the past seven days than I did in the middle 6-8 months of 2014, and I’m pushing myself to improve my level, rather than just staying happily at the same level that I am after a six-month no-climbing hiatus due to the terrible summer that we experienced over here (it’s not just you, Britain!)

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Unlike in England, where as soon as Christmas is over we start to think about spring, and eventually summer (and all those long, balmy, imaginary summer evenings) in Switzerland, Christmas is just the start of the winter, and the skiing season. In fact there is an official school holiday which roughly coincides with the spring half-term holiday, that is actually called the skiferien, or skiing holiday.

At the weekend I made another attempt at learning to ski, which went a lot better than the first round a couple of years ago. This time we managed to find a hill with a manageable slope, and without family onlookers, come to watch the ausländer Continue reading “Winter Wonderland”

We went a-foraging

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Autumn is my favourite season. I know I’ve said that before, and I’ve said it about other seasons. But autumn is absolutely my favourite. It’s the time when you can see nature at work around you, busy with the last push of productivity before winter sets in. It’s a great time to get out and nick gather or forage the wonderful goodies that nature puts out there for us. It seems that, for most people, foraging doesn’t really go beyond picking a few blackberries out of the hedges by the footpaths. But if you spent most of your childhood Octobers being dragged around the hedges looking for sloes and crab apples, you’ll be aware of how much more is out there. And I’m sure I only know a fraction of what’s available for the hard-core forager. Continue reading “We went a-foraging”

Brocki Love III (or “A wee confession”)

Well this was bound to happen, wasn’t it. I sort of knew it would, as soon as I’d posted about how I had to regulate my brocki shopping due to lack of flat space. The following weekend I was walking innocently along the road, minding my own business, when a bag of stuff being “got rid of” jumped out at me from the side of the road. Sticking out were some of those picture frames that I’ve been after for ages, the ones that are just a piece of board with a piece of glass held together by metal clips. You know the ones. They’re brilliant for a picture that you don’t want to detract from with a regular frame, but leaving them unframed would mean that they curl up.

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Brocki Love II

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When I first came to Switzerland, I imagined spending all my time in Brockis, which are second-hand shops, and the closest they come to charity shops here. I’m a great charity shopper when I’m in England, but since charity shops are generally fairly small, you’re not in danger of coming away with a car-full. The Brockis here are much larger, and consequently you lose (a) much more time, (b) much more money, (c) much more flat space.
However, I much prefer to go into these places than to go into big shops full of stuff that is pumped out for this season, and expected to go into landfill by the next to make way for the next lot. Living in a finite planet can only work if we have a stuff cycle that involved re-using old stuff. I love pretty, new (to me) stuff as much as (and probably more than) the next person, but I get much more of a kick out of something that has been (to use a horrendous, tired cliché) loved before. (See my kitchen table, below.) It also means that I buy things that have already survived for a while, and are probably better quality than things I might buy new. And I am more inclined to keep hold of them than toss them aside and pick up the newest trend (which I imagine could be quite a problem if I only took Pinterest seriously.)

Since my flat’s quite small, I’ve had to really keep a handle on my brocki shopping. It’s really rather lucky that there’s only one big one within striking distance (by foot) of my flat. So these posts about Brocki shopping are proving fewer and farther between than I originally intended. But for the sake of my living space, that’s how it has to be. Continue reading “Brocki Love II”

A Weekend Walk and Wildflowers

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Since the sky is distributing rain like it’s going out of fashion, here’s a reminder for myself that good weather does occur sometimes. At the weekend we took a tram up to a village a couple of miles away and walked back. In something that looked like a war memorial garden (but obviously wasn’t) we took some pictures of my china-blue top. I’ll put them up in a few days. Continue reading “A Weekend Walk and Wildflowers”

Middle Spring

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Welcome back to the blog after my unofficial Easter break. There’s been a massive leap in the progression of spring in the 10 days that I was away. The leaves are no longer pretending that they’re just peering blearily out of the buds, and the blossom is prolific. Continue reading “Middle Spring”