128. Swiss Family Dawson

Great excitement. We’ve been away. Abroad. Out of the country. Overseas. Somewhere where the language is different. Admittedly, we went Up North first to break ourselves in gently, but then we actually got on an aeroplane and flew off into the sunset. Or, if you want to be pedantic, into the sunrise, as we went to Switzerland, which is East of England.

We have had good weather until recently, courtesy of Hurricane Sam, a fierce storm that went on for eight days, one of the longest-lasting since 1966, when modern records began. I’d not bring bad weather, now, would I? As you can see from today’s header, we’re now heading into autumn (fall for you foreigners). We were lucky enough to keep the sun for a bit longer, as Geneva was in the high teens and we had lunch outside. I’m not sure I’d want to do that in the UK in October without a few extra layers.

Finished fruit bowl

Before we went to Switzerland, we visited the University of Sunderland. JD studied pharmacy there 100 years ago which made it a special occasion. Sorry, the pharmacy school started there 100 years ago and that’s what they were celebrating. Silly me. We had an action-packed day looking around the Health Sciences and Wellbeing Faculty. We both wanted to go to university again, it was so exciting. You can now study medicine, nursing, physiotherapy, paramedic science and who knows what else, as well as pharmacy. After lunch we had a glass-blowing demonstration at the National Glass Centre, where a fruit bowl was created with seemingly little effort in 40 minutes. OK, a lot of blowing and turning but they made it look easy.

However, I’m sure you’d like to hear how easy it is to go abroad from the UK (England) at the moment. Bearing in mind the fact that our rules can change in a moment, please don’t try to follow our experience without your own research. Switzerland is not on the Red List so there should be no issues. (Actually, since starting this, I see that the Red List now has no countries on it, although we’ve not actually got rid of it).

Vitra museum

We needed an entry form but that’s not new. I was able to complete these online with all the usual information (name, date of birth, passport number, flight details, address on arrival) plus our double vaccination dates. We had to download our NHS vaccination passes to show if asked. I wasn’t sure if these were acceptable, as the relevant websites referred to the EU and EFTA regions, neither of which apply in the case of the UK. On arrival at Gatwick, EasyJet got full marks for their efficiency. All our ’paperwork’ was examined then we were given a slip of paper with ‘good to travel’ typed on it and the date highlighted. The plane was reasonably full and the journey uneventful. Wearing a mask for the duration was not enjoyable but we’d have to get used to it as the Swiss insist on masks in all public places. I breezed through passport control in Mulhouse (Basle) with JD immediately behind me. Unfortunately, he was held up due to a misunderstanding: the chap wearing a mask behind the glass screen said one word which JD thought was ‘Zurich’. No, he said, I’m going to Basle. ‘Where’s your resident’s permit’ he was asked. I don’t have one he replied. After some confusion, it transpired he’d been asked if he was a tourist and all was OK.

We were having a reunion of work colleagues for the weekend, the last one planned as it’s now well over 20 years since we all left the company. One other couple for the UK were there and told us our NHS passes were not acceptable and we’d need to go and get Swiss Covid vaccination passes. As it was Friday night we decided to see if being part of a group, all wearing green lanyards, would get us around. It did, but this week we found out that new rules from 25th October mean that the NHS Covid passes will no longer be acceptable in Swiss shops, restaurants etc.


The reunions have all been in European cities, organised mostly by people who live in the vicinity, with some interesting sight-seeing and good restaurants. JD and I were involved in organising Brighton in 2006 and Dublin in 2011. I know we don’t live in either of these but we were considered the most local! Brighton was remembered mainly due to the incessant rain on the last day, when we lost most of the attendees on our way to lunch as they dived into convenient doorways to keep dry.

Basle was wonderfully sunny and warm. On Saturday we had a trip into Germany (just) to see the Vitra Design Museum. Someone forgot their passport but we didn’t get stopped or even notice the border, despite Switzerland not being in the EU. (This was the third country we visited, as Mulhouse is officially in France, although there’s a corridor into Switzerland with high fences either side of the road).



We had two tours, one about the buildings (all by famous architects) and the other about ‘Women in Design 1900 – Today’. The same enthusiastic guide took us around the museum and the campus. Interestingly, it ties in with a trip we made to the Design Museum in London (which I forgot to tell you about). If you find yourself with spare time in London, it’s a small museum but worth a trip. Both featured Charlotte Perriand, who worked with Le Corbusier. For those of you who ski, she designed Les Arcs and its ‘reclining buildings’ built into the landscape.


Back to Basle. In the evening we had dinner at the Safran Zunft restaurant, a guild house from 700 years ago. This building is new, from 1902, and spectacular inside. We were entertained by four music students studying the horn: our organiser had heard them practicing in the park one day and decided to book them.


Safran Zunft

The next day we went to the Kunstmuseum and had a tour of a Camille Pissarro exhibition. He was known as the Father of Impressionism and lived for a while in London. We then walked through the city to lunch on a boat on the Rhine, before catching a train to Geneva to spend a few days with a pal of ours (and her dog and cat). There are fishing huts on the Rhine for catching salmon, with cranes to allow them to swing their boat out.

Fishing hut on the Rhine


One of the things I love about Switzerland is the cheese. There is one in particular called Vacherin. It is only made in the autumn / winter months, with milk from Montbeliarde cows (anyone listen to The Archers? They have a herd). It is super creamy and gets very smelly very quickly. Many many years ago, in a former life, I brought one home on the aeroplane after a meeting in Basle. I bought it the day I left but by the time I got home, my partner (a cheese lover per excellence) was put off by the scent (pong) coming out of my case. No wonder I’d been getting funny looks at the airport. I had washed my socks, honest!


Jet d’eau, Geneva

I come across some interesting websites when I’m thinking what to say. One that I’m sure none of us needs (yet?) is ‘granny gets a grip’, billed as ‘For the BIBA generation’. Ooh, I remember shopping there when I first moved to London and still have the black sheets I bought (very daring, although they did leave me with black feet in the mornings). They are a little battered and now act as dust sheets but they remind me of when I was young and carefree. There’s absolutely nothing I need on this website but I’m rather taken by this kettle, a little like a Star Wars Stormtrooper?

The Uccello kettle

Mont Blanc (in the distance)

Back to boats, briefly.

There is a Jules Verne Trophy attempt with a trimaran using no fossil fuels. I’ve mentioned this race before, it’s an attempt to break the record for sailing non-stop around the world. (More details can be found in Post 113 dated 7th December 2020). Two boats set off last year but neither succeeded in their attempts. This time, the ‘Sails of Change’, with a crew of eleven, is planning to not only beat the record of 40 days (23 hours, 30 minutes and 30 seconds) but also to do it without having an engine. Their race should start before November 1st so I’ll keep an eye in it and let you know. Meanwhile, for the Francophones amongst you, here’s a link:

Me and Rosie

A shorter, “round the island” race is the ‘Rolex Middle Sea Race’ around Sicily (606 nm, which in this case stands for nautical miles, not nanometres as I automatically see). I am confused as I keep reading about records being smashed this year. First, 100-foot racing maxi Comanche did it in 40 hours (17 minutes and 50 seconds). The previous record was set in 2007 and was over 47 hours. Then, 70-foot Argo did it in 33 hours, 29 minutes and 28 seconds. I think it’s different classes: just checked, Comanche is a monohull and Argo a multihull (trimaran).

The race was started by two Englishmen, sailing enthusiasts living in Malta. The first race was held in 1968, racing from Malta and around Sicily in a clockwise direction. It is now sailed the other way round, I’m not sure why. This year, 114 boats set off. The weather conditions sounded interesting, with high winds and wind holes, as you’d expect around all those islands, and the finish line had to be moved when the conditions became too severe for the slower boats to enter the harbour at the end of their race.


Frank Stella artwork at Kunstmuseum

I think that’s it for today. No cocktails, I must get my thinking cap on, especially as Hallowe’en is this weekend. I do have a few recipes but not all the ingredients and I’m not going out shopping just for spirits (no pun intended?). Maybe you can make one and let me know what it’s like.

For a Hocus Pocus, take 60 ml gin, 22.5 ml red vermouth, 22.5 ml orange liqueur (Cointreau etc) and 5 ml Fernet Branca. I’ll try it with a different bitters as we don’t have Fernet Branca. For a Black Magic, don’t buy a box of chocolates but mix 60 ml Montenegro Amaro (another bitters supposedly with a smell of Tizer, for those of you who are into retro English fizzy drinks. Campari might work?), 30 ml single malt (preferably peaty), 100 ml crème de banane and half a pinch of salt. That sounds very medicinal. Maybe a Clairvoyant: 45 ml Fino sherry, 45 ml dry (white) vermouth, 22.5 ml Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur) and a dash of Angostura bitters.

Happy Hallowe’en!

One thought on “128. Swiss Family Dawson

  1. Great blog Sam, sounds like you had a wonderful time, and very interesting. Hope you get the card about SCF. Maddy has been shorn, now called skinny Liz. Also she has had a stomach upset, no doubt eating foul things in the garden when my back was turned. On a chicken and rice diet today. It all happens here! Much love Sue.

    Sent from my iPad



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