My OH met Paul at school and introduced me to him in 1986. As is so often the way with school friends, we may well have lost touch were it not for the fact that Paul and I both like writing letters. Anyone under the age of 30 may need to have this explained to them: you take a pen and a piece of paper, you write stuff, you put the paper in an envelope, address it, put a stamp on it and post it, which has nothing to do with the internet. Weird eh?
For years we wrote ‘real’ letters fairly regularly, but then later on when we both had access to a computer and were using email every day, writing letters in the Jane Austen sense seemed silly and we started emailing. It turns out though, that neither writing nor receiving email has the same appeal. We continued to correspond, but at nowhere near the same length. We’ve kept in touch though and I was epistolically introduced to Eva, Paul’s OH, about ten years ago, and then in person when they came to visit us in Swansea a few years later.
I sent an invitation to Eva and Paul last September and was delighted to receive a fast and enthusiastic response. I had thought about Skype, or maybe if they had happened to be coming to the UK we could have met up somewhere in England or even in Europe somewhere, but I was really excited when Paul sent me a link to the Zurich restaurant he wanted us to eat in and then invited the whole family to come and stay in Switzerland.
Hotel Sonne looks like it could featured in a 1930s English novel. It’s on the banks of Lake Zurich and is expensive and understated. I was wondering when Max and Rebecca de Winter were going to breeze through on their way to a tennis match and I’m sure the angst ridden bloke in the corner was Graham Greene. The restaurant is delightful. It’s on the banks of Lake Zurich and we ate on the terrace overlooking the water. It was a comfortably warm day but Europe was not yet in the grip of the heatwave that subsequently engulfed it. There was a light breeze and the odd shower, perfect weather for sitting on a terrace by a lake. The tablecloth was linen, the staff were attentive and the food was as pretty as a picture. (See picture).
Eva and Paul live a five minute walk from the lake, so we walked down to the ferry stop and took a boat to the hotel. Zurich is a big city like a dozen other European cities, but it has a huge lake in the middle of it and when you look beyond the lake, you see snow topped mountains. The idea of using a boat as a means of transport is charming, maybe even quaint, but as tends to be the case in Switzerland, it was also convenient and efficient. The boat was on time, the short journey was pleasant, getting on and off was fuss free.
27 June 2015
Hotel Sonne, on the banks of Lake Zurich
Lunch was, no surprise here, delicious. Everybody’s food was tastefully arranged and strewn with flowers and herbs. I’m passionately fond of food, but it’s rare for me to take pictures of it, but as this page shows, I couldn’t resist with this stuff, it was just so pretty!
As we were in Zurich, I felt duty bound to have Zurich Schnitzel, a creamy stew of rose veal and mushrooms. It is traditionally served with kidney but that’s optional here. I felt obliged to go for it if I was to get the full experience and received admiring comments from our hosts, neither of whom would have considered eating it (one is vegetarian the other eats very little meat). As the kidney isn’t cooked with the rest of the stew, it had little flavour and so was a bit of an irrelevance. I’m splitting hairs really, the meal was delicious without the kidneys and they could easily have been omitted altogether. Nevertheless, it rankles that modern tastes preclude adding offal to food such that the delicate and sensitive can’t easily pick it back out again. Modern meat eaters should stop being so squeamish – if you kill an animal to eat it, the very least you can do is eat the whole thing.
It was really lovely to see that Eva and Paul were genuinely happy to have us visiting them. The strained, ‘inconvenienced but tolerating it’ feeling you often get from the British when staying as a house guest was absolutely absent here. We were welcome and it was wonderful to categorically know that. Back at the lunch table, conversation flowed or rather gushed torrentially as it will with a large group of readers, writers, speakers and thinkers. I was a little concerned that Eva, as a non-native speaker, might be forced to work hard to keep up with us chattering Brits, but I saw no evidence of it. She really is very, very good at English. During a conversation about the word ‘dwarf’ – difference between English and German, Game of Thrones, dwarf plants, dwarfism etc, Paul asked us if we knew the other two English words which begin with the letters ‘dw’. Before OH or I could think of anything, Eva produced ‘dwell’ and then asked if it was commonly used. When we confirmed that it was a little antiquainted, she gave us an example to check usage: “Mr Darcy dwells at Pemberley”. Wow! How can someone who speaks English as a third language be able to read and then produce English in the style of Jane Austen? So no, probably no problems keeping up with the conversation.
We had numerous meals together in the five days we spent in Switzerland and I really can’t quite remember which conversations were had at which meal. I was delighted to hear my children contributing with what were often well thought out and erudite comments, they really have grown up beautifully. I think our lunch table conversation at Hotel Sonne was largely fairly light hearted which wasn’t always the case. We later joked that we had managed during our holiday to discuss euthanasia and death tourism, nuclear war, predatory sex, the Nazis and dementia. We invented a whole life story for one hapless man who had foolishly opted for what we decided was inappropriate clothing. In our world, this poor chap was a wife beater and then murderer and dismemberer of innocent women. All of the above are potentially disasterous subjects for the family holiday dinner table. None were however, we managed them all with good humour and even wit.
After lunch we took the boat back to Zollikon, the suburb where our hosts live, and went to their local lido. The sun was shining brightly by now and it was getting really warm, so we parked hydrophobic OH under a tree with his Kindle and went for a swim in the lake. The water was 21 degrees and it was utterly delightful to float around looking up at the hills and beyond that, to the snow capped mountains. Switzerland really is a lovely place.