Is there more to autumn than dank dark mornings?

There is no mistaking it. The misty mornings, watery sunshine, longer shadows and the darker evenings.

Autumn is here.

autumnal long shadows

autumnal long shadows

Now others might be rueing the end of another summer, but not I, my friend, not I.  Autumn, for me, is an amazing time of year and here are 6 (British and Swiss) reasons why.

That autumnal outdoor feeling – get yourself outside, whether it is on foot or on a bike, and just explore.  I love wandering in the woods or around a Tierpark (animal park) like the one in Sihlwald, near Zurich.

A wolf at the Tierwald in Sihlwald near Zurich

A wolf at the Wildnispark in Sihlwald near Zurich

The “Herbstmesse” or autumn tradeshows are in full swing.  This is something for those danker, wetter days, as mostly they are undercover.  Not that I am biased, but I rather like the Zugermesse.  It lasts 10 days and there is something for everyone, from the home improver to the chef, from the fitness fanatic to the holiday seeker, from the foodie to the wine-lover. The kids love the farmyard enclosure. Personally I just love wandering round the stalls and seeing what is on offer.  But be warned these tradeshows are not for the faint-hearted, they are huge. We went last weekend and we walked for 3 and a half hours without sitting down!

The “Chilbi” or “fair” comes to town.   This weekend in my village, we have bumper cars going round the roundabout instead of cars.  The main streets are completely closed for 3 days as the village comes together and enjoys the fair and celebrates the end of summer.

Steinhausen Chilbi - the main roads through the village are closed for 3 days for the fun fair

Steinhausen Chilbi – the main roads through the village are closed for 3 days for the fun fair

It is almost time for the ski season and so the preparation must begin in earnest.  Now this involves hard work as well as a little bit of retail therapy for some new socks and thermal undergarments (sexy, eh?). A new exercise regime working on strengthening the leg muscles and increasing flexibility has begun.  (Let me tell you, sitting against a wall is quite painful after about 45 seconds!)  But I know that all this effort will be worth it, when I can start the ski season in December without any stiff legs!

The traditions….halloween is almost upon us and I love fancy dress plus who can resist the jack o’lanterns, apple bobbing, toffee apples and pumpkin pie? Then the Christmas markets will start, but not before I am back in the UK for work, which nicely coincides with one of my favourite UK traditions, bonfire night on the 5th November. While most other countries stand outside and watch fireworks in summer, we stand outside and watch them in autumn, often in the rain! But nothing quite beats wrapping up warm with hat, scarf and gloves, wearing sturdy boots or wellies and then heading out to friends or to the town firework display and bonfire, partaking in some mulled wine to keep warm, plus a hot dog and toasted marshmallows, if you are lucky. But best of all you can write your name in lights (ok,  in sparkles) with the sparkler.

Fireworks on November 5th in the UK

Fireworks on November 5th in the UK

The food….”wild” season is upon us and there is lots of game in the shops, but best of all for me it is the vegetables and fruits we have in autumn: the pumpkin, butternut squash and sweet potato, plus the figs and dates. Warming soups, cheese fondue and raclette can all now reappear on the menu and stay til April!

Fondue at Christmas time

Fondue at Christmas time

What do you like about autumn? Or even why you don’t!.

Written by Catherine Evans Joines

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A walk in the woods and why it is important to honour the promises you make to yourself

About a month or so ago I made a promise to myself to try to spend more time outside. Well in my first ever video blog post (be kind), I confess that today it almost didn’t happen, even though it was a stunning autumn day.

If you don’t honour the promises you make to yourself, who else will?

If you want to spend more time doing something then give yourself permission and time to do it.

The important things in life need to be prioritised, otherwise they will get lost amongst all those things we “should” be doing.

For me, I love being outside, walking, exploring and relaxing.  And in this short video I chat a little more about why I love to walk in the woods in autumn – the original topic of my blog post today!

Here is some autumn inspiration.  

The results of my walk in the wood today.

There are so many ways to enjoy the autumn. Here are just some.

There are so many ways to enjoy the autumn. Here are just some.

A snapshot of an autumn day in Switzerland

A snapshot of an autumn day in Switzerland

Loving the autumn colours

Loving the autumn colours

A beautiful autumnal scene

A beautiful autumnal scene

 

And now over to you….you too can enjoy the autumn!!

And just in case you are procrastinating, this is how I deal with it!

Written by Catherine Evans Joines

 

Not just “some day” – My Perfect Summer’s Day

Today’s 30 Day Blog Challenge is to describe your perfect day but not as if it were some distant dream but as if you were living it in the here and now. Visualisation exercises like this are super powerful.  I find they help put things in perspective. They also give me the kick up the behind to make changes to what I am doing today, so that I will reach that goal, not just some day, but in the next 3-5 years.

So what would my perfect summer’s day look like?

I wake up in the morning early, just as the sun begins to stream through the open curtains and window. The dawn chorus is already in full voice and I can hear the sound of the stream in the distance. I get up and see the magnificent view of the hills outside, rolling as far as the eye can see. The breeze is a little fresh, but it is just what I need to shrug off the last remnants of drowsiness.

Now if I could wake up to this view every morning....

Now if I could wake up to this view every morning….

I pad down to the kitchen. And what a kitchen! A real country-style affair with lots of space for me to prepare food and a huge oven for those Sunday roasts and delicious cakes. The kitchen table in the centre is already laid from the night before (something I learnt from my mum), the jams, cereals, fruit bowl, crockery and cutlery. Perfect. I put the coffee machine on for my husband (I can’t stand the stuff but it seems he just can’t function without that caffeine fix first thing). Then I head out onto the terrace and do my 30 minutes of yoga and meditation. Just taking in the peace and quiet. Enjoying being by myself, those precious minutes to just regather and prepare for the day ahead.

I come in from the terrace to find my husband taking the croissants out of the oven. Mmmm. Nothing quite beats the smell of warm croissants in the morning, except perhaps freshly baked cakes in the afternoon! I enjoy my otherwise healthy breakfast: freshly squeezed orange juice, cornflakes topped with banana.  Breakfast is the most important meal and I need to be fueled up ready for the day ahead. Because today I have 2 client meetings (virtual, of course) and I am working hard on putting the final touches on the plans for the leisure expo, which will be held next month.

After breakfast I head back out onto the terrace, ensure the parasols are up to provide shade from the sun that I know will round the corner of the cottage soon.  I never have been able to work at a desk, so I kick back on our outdoor couch and get to work on the laptop.  The first 45 minutes are spent in a video call with my business partner, my sister. This time is, as usual, a mix of gossip, updating each other on the last week, brainstorming, allocation of important tasks, and setting a time for our next call.  You see we both travel often and we are often not in the same country, so Skype is invaluable to us. At the moment, she is off exploring and researching cool activities to do in Vietnam and Thailand. This is all part of the Leisure Guru experience, making the most of the opportunities out there.

Experience a river taxi in Northern Thailand

Experience a river taxi in Northern Thailand

So after the call with M, it is on to my client calls. I love these. Time to check in with people about the activities they might want to try in the coming months. Hearing the buzz and sense of achievement as they discuss their last adventures.  I can’t wait to get off the call and start researching for them. Finding where they could learn to scuba dive in Turkey, learn how to cook a thai meal in Thailand, make chocolates in Switzerland, balloon over the Serengeti during migration season. The list is endless. These assignments can be so varied and each one inspires me further. There is so much out there that I want to try. I make a note to find out (for myself) where I can find an alphorn lesson.

I want to have one lesson on the alphorn, just to try

I want to have one lesson on the alphorn, just to try

Gosh! It is lunchtime already.  Time for a change of scene. Today my husband and I grab the bikes after frantically stuffing the laptops into the rucksacks and head off into the village for a “continental” ploughmans.  The wind blows through my hair, the tyres scrunch along over the gritty path and the sun is beating on my back. I feel so carefree.  Our favourite “local” has really good wholesome food, a superb range of teas and the all important wifi! What more could I ask for? The owners are quite used to us settling in for the afternoon one or two times a week and today is no exception.  So after a fab lunch putting the world to rights with my husband it is again time to do a little more work.

With the green tea at my side, I log on to the email and social media. Yeah! All is progressing as it should for the expo. This is a relief. Our virtual assistant has it covered. Thank God for S. What would we do without her? Such a valuable member of the Leisure Guru team, keeping things ticking along on the tech side.   This means I can I get cracking on the fun stuff, writing for the blog, scheduling tweets and posts.  It is busy, absorbing work and as usual I don’t notice the time fly by.

Right 4.30pm – that’s it for the day on a work front.  Time to pedal back home, via the swimming pool for a quick dip and refresh.  I love the monotony of lane swimming. The constant back and forth.  Lifting one arm over and then the next, as the legs kick gently beneath the surface of the water.  My mind clears. Then it is the obligatory race at the end of the session with my husband.  This part is fun.  The only place where I am truly competitive is in the water. Today it is front crawl. I stand a slim chance of winning….let’s see…….Darn. Not today, lost by a whisker.

I love swimming

I love swimming

The ride back to the cottage is harder. It is uphill.  Remind me again why live at the top of the hill? Oh yes, I remember. We round the corner and see the little cottage surrounded by fields, the stream to the left and the hills behind it.  As we get closer I can smell the flowers in the garden and see our wee veggie patch. 

Time for dinner. Something light I think. Tomato and goats cheese tart with herbs from the garden, some salad and some home-grown spuds; homemade lemonade to accompany.  Dessert well that is the left-over banana and lemon cake, which I baked yesterday. Always a hit. Fresh homemade food, priceless.

Totally yummy banana and lemon cake

Totally yummy banana and lemon cake

We sit there out on the terrace enjoying each other’s company, supping lemonade, discussing and planning our next trip.  As yet the destination is unknown. Will it be hiring a campervan and travelling across Europe or heading to South American? Who knows…we have three months or so before we need to decide.

As the night draws in, I head up to bed. Content.

Totally enjoyed writing that piece and I realised how much of it I am actually doing right now or at least a version of it. Perhaps this will become reality sooner than I think!

This post was in response to the 30 Day Blog Challenge Day 5

The mountains are not just for winter fun….

This week’s blog post is a little late as I spent a long weekend enjoying some fun times in the Dolomites.  I love the mountains and not just in winter. In fact, my first love of the mountains came on walking holidays in the French and Austrian Alps in summertime with my Dad and sister.

fantastic views, fresh air, exhilaration and relaxation

Now that I live so close to the mountains in Switzerland, I get to see first-hand how the landscape changes within a matter of weeks (sometimes days!) from green, green grass with little yellow and purple meadow flowers to having a white blanket of snow (and vis versa).  In winter the mountains have a more even appearance, as many of the smaller dips are covered over, much like correcting flaws in a cake when icing!  But in summer these little dips and bumps are clearly evident and look like wrinkles in the green carpet.  They just seem to beckon me to come and explore.  For me nothing can beat the combination of fantastic views, fresh air, (gentle) exercise, exhilaration and relaxation that a summertime trip into the mountains can offer. (Plus for me it has the added advantage of being the only place I seem to be able to pick up a bit of a suntan!)

the Dolomites

From Kronplatz toward the Austrian Alps - amazing

From Kronplatz toward the Austrian Alps – amazing

So this last weekend was my first ever trip to the Dolomites, in the South Tirol (Italy) and it certainly won’t be my last. We stayed in a lovely little village called Valdaora or Olang, depending on whether you are a German or Italian speaker – this caused no end of confusion with the satnav!  Valdaora sits at the foot of the Kronplatz. From December through to April Kronplatz and the villages beneath it are a hive of snow-filled activity and with over 100 km of pistes it is easy to see why.  The area doesn’t just sleep during the summer. There are plenty of activities to try out.  As we only had a couple of days we could only choose a couple.

a little bit of R+R

We decided to use our long weekend for a bit of R+R and to try to kick-start a bit of a “new you” health and fitness regime. So we booked into a lovely hotel with spa facilities offering jacuzzis, sauna, swimming pool, massages etc. We also booked half-board (which can be risky) but we were not disappointed – the food was amazing. A different but highly imaginative five course menu was freshly prepared for us every night. The portion sizes were just right, so that you felt only pleasantly satisfied and not stuffed to bursting at the end of the meal.  And if you didn’t happen to like one of the options they were more than happy to prepare a substitute. So the hotel was a little bit of luxury to ensure we managed the rest part of the equation.

a little bit of luxury in our hotel room

a little bit of luxury in our hotel room

But what about the relaxation side? Well, whilst I could have spent all my time indoors enjoying the spa facilities at the hotel, this would not have helped me “switch my brain off” fully.  For that to happen I have to be fully engaged in an activity, and I usually have to have some fear associated with it…this is why I find skiing so mentally relaxing, even if it is physically exhausting.  I spend all my time worrying about staying upright that I cannot concentrate on anything else other than what I am doing in the here and now – so the office doesn’t even get a look in.  So this last weekend, I didn’t pass up the opportunity to see some awe-inspiring scenery, to get the adrenaline flowing and to feel that sense of accomplishment that comes with trying or seeing something new.

Obviously a walk in the mountains was on the cards. So we took the cable car up to Kronplatz and walked down – in total we descended 1300m.  Now  whoever thinks walking down is easy, obviously hasn’t spent 3.5 hours doing it continuously without encountering even the slightest incline to help alleviate the pressure in the knees and thighs…not that I am moaning.  It was just stunning scenery the whole way down, mountains everywhere, ski runs turned into meadows, the sound of cow bells, the butterflies fluttering around your legs as you walked though long grass interspersed with pretty flowers, the breeze helping to cool you down in the heat of the day, and best of all the peace and quiet. Bliss.

So this is how a ski run looks in summer!

So this is how a ski run looks in summer!

a plethora of activities

On our walk we encountered others making the most of the amazing landscape. There were the mountain bikers

mountain biking on Kronplatz

mountain biking on Kronplatz

The paragliders

paragliding from Kronplatz to the valley below

paragliding from Kronplatz to the valley below

The photographers

there is so much to be inspired by...you just have to capture it

there is so much to be inspired by…you just have to capture it

The picnickers

just take some time out and admire what nature has to offer

just take some time out and admire what nature has to offer

The adrenaline junkies looking for some excitement by swinging out over the valley floor below

swinging out over the valley below

swinging out over the valley below

And all of this on one mountain!

don’t forget the rivers, lakes and forests

Where there are mountains, there are often rivers, lakes and forests….so even more activities to try like river rafting, canoeing, canyoning or just simply swimming in a mountain lake. But we didn’t opt for any of those for our second day’s activity…instead we chose the high-ropes course, a kind of obstacle course up in the trees. This certainly got the adrenaline coursing through my veins, especially as I am not overly keen on heights and am Little Miss Cautious. So whilst I know that it is safe, providing you follow the safety instructions, the idea of traversing a course several metres above the ground, whilst overcoming different obstacles to get from one tree platform to another, was, well, daunting.

adrenaline, fear, accomplishment

wobbly legs, aching arms, but loads of adrenaline ensured I made it across.

wobbly legs, aching arms, but loads of adrenaline ensured I made it across.

After our safety instruction (in English) and our first test course we were let loose on the different courses. There were several of differing difficulties. Once we had sussed out which was the easiest we were underway.  It was not easy. Sometimes it was not elegant, but I navigated the first one. I felt amazing. I had had moments where I didn’t think I would be able to stop the legs from wobbling or my arms from shaking, but I had managed it.  I was excited and thrilled.

Survived and thoroughly enjoyed it

Survived and thoroughly enjoyed it

After a short break to let the lactic acid dissipate and also to feel the relief of having solid ground under my feet again, I felt able to tackle another, harder, course.  This time I was more confident, had greater control, but was as equally inelegant as the time before.  It was awesome. Finishing with a zipline into a cargo net, followed by disentangling myself, whilst my heart was beating out of my chest, totally made me feel alive.

holding on for dear life, but secretly loving every second

holding on for dear life, but secretly loving every second

I love the mountains for their variety, for their magnificence and for their ability to inspire me.  It won’t be long til I am back visiting them again.

A hiking tour with a difference – Mountains and Vistas Culinary Trail Flims

Hot summer Sundays are made for lazing and relaxing on the balcony watching the birds expend a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy as they swoop and glide in search of tasty morsels. Three years ago on a similarly hot and sunny weekend in the Swiss Alps I too was in search of tasty morsels to sustain my valiant efforts of walking from Falera to Foppa, a beautiful hike of some 15 km. Thankfully someone had solved the problem for me. Plus there was the added benefit of celebrating my husband’s birthday having a dinner date with a difference.

Breathtaking scenery in Flims

Breathtaking scenery in Flims

This was no ordinary hike and no ordinary dinner date. The “mountains and vistas” culinary trail in Flims-Laax is a wonderful experience combining two of my favourite pastimes, walking and eating. What could be better than beautiful scenery, fresh air, exercise, scrumptious wholesome food and fabulous company? In the 7 hours or so it took to complete our hike, we enjoyed a delicious 5 course gourmet meal with a difference.

Enjoying an apero at the start of the hike

Enjoying an apero at the start of the hike

The day started early with a celebratory birthday apero in Falera before we began the hike in earnest. Enjoying the breathtaking scenery and ascents alike! Each course of our gourmet meal was at a different mountain restaurant. So we had plenty of time to work up an appetite for the next course. And just when we needed it around the corner was the next mountain hut offering not only superbly tasting food but also a welcome sit down. The 5 mountain restaurant we visited had their own charm and style and together they served us the most delightful and unique experience.

Even our four-legged friends are well looked after on the mountain

Even our four legged friends are well looked after on the mountain

I have since found on the Flims website a new culinary trail, “woods and water” and I think that might be on the menu for later this summer!
Further details can be found on the Flims website: http://www.flims.com/en/activities/wandern/culinary-trail/mountain-view/
http://www.flims.com/en/activities/wandern/culinary-trail/woods-water/

Simply awesome scenery

Simply awesome scenery

10 awesome (and nearly free) ways to enjoy the outdoors this summer

This week I was on a work trip to Warsaw, Poland and as usual I didn’t have a lot of time for me during the 2 days.  But as this was my first real visit to Warsaw I was determined that this time I would see something of the city. So bright and early one morning before my meetings for the day started, I decided to explore the city.  The weather was perfect, the sun was shining and it felt like summer might be finally here.  As the city slowly woke, I enjoyed my “free” sightseeing and the benefits of fresh air and exercise first thing in the morning. As I wandered, I got to thinking about how I could spend more time enjoying the outdoors this summer (weather permitting!!).  Here is my list.

1. Swimming in the lake or Lido (as I live in Switzerland this is relatively easy but could be substituted for swimming in the sea, if you are brave enough to venture in the coast round Britain!)

Enjoying the summer sun and cooling off in Lake Zug

Enjoying the summer sun and cooling off in Lake Zug

2. Walking in the forest or in the mountains. Essentially anywhere where there are more birds than cars!

3. Arrange an evening BBQ with friends. Here in Switzerland we have these great little grill places tucked into the woods or by the lakes, which are ready and waiting for us with wood and kindling available.  So all we need bring are the matches, our sausages and burgers (oh and salad) and drinks! Super easy.  Grilling and watching the sun go down, chatting with friends. What could be better?

4. Cycling by the lake or through the park. With the many bicycle rental schemes around, even if you don’t own a bike, it is easy to rent one and whisk yourself through the parks under your own steam.  Also perfect if you are visiting a new city and want to see more, faster!

5. Have a picnic “Dad style”. So when Morag and I were little, we often went on holidays with our Dad. Now Dad didn’t have a lot of patience for making packed lunches and relied instead on the impromptu picnic to keep us fuelled for the afternoon.  A “Dad style” picnic involves heading to the nearest baker, choosing some nice baguettes or rolls. The baker is followed by a stop at a delicatessen for the ham/beef that will be the filling for our sandwich; then the greengrocer for some fruit for dessert. And finally the newsagent for the drinks.  Next stop, a nice bench in the park or by the lake to sit back and enjoy a back-to-basics picnic! Superb!

6. For those summer evenings, mosey on down to the nearest “free” music event near you.  And chill out listening as the music fills the evening air.  For me this would be the free Jazz event that happens every Wednesday evening in summer at the local bandstand.

7. Crazy golf! Grossly underrated. Crazy golf, or mini-golf as it is known here in Switzerland, can be a real laugh especially with friends.  It can bring out the competitive side of even the most mild-mannered people!

Nothing like a little competitiveness between friends!

8. Rollerblading – this is very popular here in Switzerland and there are loads of Rollerblade paths (as they are just like cycle paths, this should be easy to try almost anywhere – if I can stay upright!)

9. Head to town and be a tourist for the day…take the camera and really view the city through fresh eyes.  Just as I did in Warsaw this week.  I plan to visit Zürich one weekend this summer and just enjoy being there instead of frantically dashing in and out of shops!

10. Now the best way to enjoy the outdoors this summer for me is at home, on the balcony. Sitting there with a good book, listening to music and sipping home-made lemonade. Bliss!