Refreshment for the Soul

Meditation

Every year for the last 4 years I have looked forward to one particular conference, the annual Swiss Group for Mass Spectrometry (SGMS) meeting – a niche scientific meeting, which takes place in the stunning location of Beatenberg, a village situated high above Interlaken in the Bernese Oberland of Switzerland. The meeting only lasts 24 hours but I always leave feeling refreshed.

Looking from Beatenberg toward the snow capped mountains in the distance

Looking from the Dorint hotel in Beatenberg toward the snow capped mountains in the distance

The air is cooler, fresher, cleaner. You can hear the goat and cow bells ring out over the meadows, see the blue-green lake below and the eagles gracing the sky above. And if that doesn’t sound idylic enough, on a clear day you are blessed with one of the best vistas that Switzerland has to offer. For directly across from Beatenberg you can see the snow-covered Eiger, Moench and Jungfrau. These three peaks are some of the highest and most impressive mountains in Alps and make up one of the most famous and emblematic sights in Switzerland.  You can not help but be in awe. 

The Alps at Dusk

The Alps at Dusk

I can and do spend some time just staring out at the mountains. Meditating.  Watching the sun set at about 5.30pm and the mountains getting a red-orange hue across them or seeing the first rays of sun spring from behind the mountain peaks. Magical.  I am not sure what it is about the mountains but they have a calming influence on me.  After the hecticness of a busy work day, being selfish and taking 10-20 minutes just for me to clear my mind and with no distractions, truly is refreshment for the soul.

Evening light over the Alps

Evening light over the Alps

 Written by Catherine Evans Joines

 

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Exploring the world…..

In my last post I discussed what home means to me, but I also mentioned that I want to mix living in two different countries with trips elsewhere in the world. So where would I like to go when I am not in the UK or Switzerland? I have quite a list, made up of places I have been on work trips but just didn’t have time to explore as much as I would have liked, to brand new places, which have been “calling” to me for years, and then there are the old favourites, where I would just love to return to time and time again.

My brand new places to visit

My brand new places to visit

From the list of only the brand new places, I can see that I will need to prioritise to make this dream a reality!

However, if I think about it, my dream is really a work already in progress.  In the past decade or so, I have already visited so many places under my own steam.  Places such as Hong Kong, India, Tunisia, Turkey, Malaysia, Singapore, Oman, Morocco, France, Spain, Andorra, Italy, Canada, and many more.

So my aim from now on will be to continue to visit between 2 and 4 new places a year, both near and far.  I will look at spending a few weeks as a tourist exploring, as far as possible in such a short time, the language, culture, history, heritage, countryside and of course, the food! (Food is one of the delights of travelling, in my eyes).  Yes it will only be a toe-dip into the place. But even in a short period of time, if you walk around with your senses open and receptive, you can learn so much!

collage of the food I have eaten from around the world
collage of the food I have eaten from around the world

collage of the food I have eaten from around the world

Written by Catherine Evans Joines

This blog post was written in response to the Suitcase Entrepreneur’s 30 Day Blog Challenge – Day 24

Home and living anywhere

Although I sometimes apply the “wherever I lay my hat that’s my home” principle, especially when travelling, the concept of HOME is actually quite tricky to define.  For me there are so many elements to HOME.  Yes there is the building, the decor, the furniture I have chosen, the soft furnishings, the art on the wall, the books in the bookshelf, music on the iPod, the trinkets on the shelves and the photos all around.  It is the little sanctuary in which I can hide from the world, regroup, entertain friends and family, chill out, relax, be myself.

hearts build a home

home is more than the physical components

But there is more to it than just the physical components.  Being at HOME is also all about being with the people I am close to; who “get” and accept me.  It is the conversations, the looks, the banter, the hugs and affection – with only these I can feel at home anywhere.

it’s the people and society too

So if the connection and time spent with those closest to me is what makes me feel at HOME, in today’s world of super-connections via the internet and telephony systems, really the world is my oyster in terms of deciding on where to live…or so you would think.   But having lived in Switzerland for the past three and a half years, feeling at HOME is also linked, for me at least, with the commonalities I see between my core values (and attitudes) and those of the society in which I am living.

So if I had the choice (and I do) where would I choose to live?

For me this is quite simple.  I would love to live in both the UK and Switzerland, taking trips abroad to other countries on a semi-regular basis.  However, in practice this may require some ingenuity to overcome some logistical issues, like residency permits and having work that is location-independent.

the UK

A roast dinner - boy have I missed these!

A roast dinner – boy have I missed these!

I love the UK because it is the country I grew up in. My family and a large number of friends live there.  I understand how things work, like local government administration, the legal system, the tax system (or at least I know enough and when I need to, I know where to find out more!). I know the unwritten rules, the etiquette, the expectations.  I love the choice, in terms of produce, entertainment, lifestyle, career.  The diversity and variety is so vast.  Of course the food is important: the Sunday roast, the cans of baked beans, the marmite, the fish and chips, the fantastic Indian and Chinese cuisines, the great British cheeses like cheddar and stilton and of course the great British banger.   And there is the countryside, heritage and history….. I think you can see that I really do love my “home” country.

Switzerland

The town I currently call home, Zug Switzerland

The town I currently call home, Zug Switzerland

But equally there are things in Switzerland which I love.  I love the chocolate, the cheese, the mountains and lakes, the cow bells, the punctual clean trains and all the things you associate with Switzerland. But more than that I love the traditions, the strong sense of family, the respect, the politeness, the way “everything” just works.  I love the language and the sing-song intonation as it is spoken.  I love that on Sundays in Switzerland you can’t help but relax; the shops are shut and so it is really a day to spend with family and friends.  I love the Swiss attitude to Health and Safety, which is so much more pragmatic and requires you to use your common-sense.  I love the plethora of outdoor activities for winter and summer: skiing, snowboarding, ice-skating, snow-shoeing, cycling, lake-swimming, hiking, in-line skating, the vitaparacours, via ferattas.   And yes, over the past 3 and a bit years I have come to learn and am still learning how the administration works, the language,  the etiquette and the unwritten rules.

but don’t forget the travel

I guess I am greedy and I want to take the best bits of both countries and make my ideal!   As that is really not possible, the next best thing is to be able to split my time between the two countries I love, also making time for further exploration and discovery through regular trips around the world.

Written by Catherine Evans Joines

This blog post was written in response to the Suitcase Entrepreneur’s 30 Day Blog Challenge – Day 22

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

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!