I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!

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Sunday
Sep212014

A day full of culture

Art, literature, music – what more could we ask for?

 

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The weather wasn’t so clear when we set out this morning, with real Alpine skies overhead.  We were in for a changeable day’s weather it seemed.

 

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From time to time, patches of sunshine broke through, though the clouds were never far away.  We were driving south east, towards Vaduz, and over the border into Liechtenstein, where our friends had recommended a visit to the Kunsthaus: the art gallery.

 

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Travelling fast on the motorway, the traffic wasn’t so bad and we hoped we were right in thinking it was brightening up rather.

 

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Though much of the journey was within tunnels and each time we entered one, we could never guess what the weather was going to be like when we came out the other end, several kilometres beyond.

 

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We left that motorway behind, turned left and travelled towards the border.

 

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Not that there was much to see.  Liechtenstein is more of an extension to Switzerland than a different country, from a visitor’s point of view, at least.

 

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We parked the car for free and headed along the modern, pedestrianised main street, finding the Kunsthaus right there in front of us.  As we bought our entrance tickets, the desk clerk felt the need to warn us not to expect paintings in here, for this was a gallery of modern, conceptual art.  Did we really look that conservative (with a small c!) ?  We reassured him that it was fine, we’d be ok…

 

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There was a small permanent exhibition, including a couple of Warhol prints, a small Liechtenstein work (of course!) and one or two works in neon by an artist I didn’t recognise.  But the main exhibition currently was Gary Kuehn’s “Between Sex and Geometry”.  To begin with, it took some understanding.  Reading the background to such abstract concepts auf Deutsch was a challenge, but gradually, we got to grips with what the artist was exploring and really enjoyed the chance to challenge our own preconceptions by chatting further with a couple of the museum staff.  We left inspired to find out more about the artist and his work, though we were ready for a stiff drink!

 

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First, though, we thought we’d walk the length of the main street, as far as the parliament buildings here.  The sun was shining now and it was really warm: such a pleasure to be out and enjoying the fine morning.

 

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The new entrance to the parliament wasn’t exactly a fine example of exciting architecture, I thought, though it sat alongside the older building and perhaps needed to conform.  The royal Family live in the castle/palace up there on the hill, looking down on their realm from above.

 

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I seem to have taken the photograph of the old parliament building at a most peculiar angle.  My apologies!

 

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We returned to the car to find several busloads of Korean visitors still there in the car park, all taking the same photograph – sometimes, it’s interesting seeing places through the eyes of others, isn’t it?

 

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So that was it for Liechtenstein – the border on the road southwards into Switzerland was even less of an event than the other one: a couple of flagpoles and a small stone marker.

 

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Our destination for lunchtime was Maienfeld, a pretty old town with unmissable connections with Johanna Spyri’s character, Heidi.  Though we had no intention of making a pilgrimage, when we’d identified the town as a possible destination this morning, I’d downloaded a copy of the book to my Kindle and was curious to see what was what.

 

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But first, some lunch: a platter of Bunderfleisch and Alpkäse, washed down with a beer, of course.

 

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We made our way through the town following the signs to “Heididorf”, admiring the sunflower heads floating in the water trough as we went.  Maienfeld is a wine growing town, too, and we passed several vineyards on the way – I think those are a relatively recent development, since I couldn’t remember Heidi and Peter snacking on the odd bunch of grapes in the story!

 

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It looks as though it could be a good harvest this year.

 

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Soon, we were in open fields and leaving our car in a well filled car park, we didn’t have far to walk to a wooden bench in the pasture, overlooking the mountains.

 

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Here we were in Heidi’s flower meadow and though there were, of course, other people here, it was quiet and sunny.  What better thing to do than to get out the Kindle and read?

 

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It’s an easy read and in an hour or so, I was already almost half way through.  We could have stayed longer but we were invited to a performance in Glarus, a few miles down the road and we didn’t want to be late!

 

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So leaving Heidi’s meadow over there under the wooded mountain, we joined the motorway again and headed for Glarus.  We left the blue skies behind on one side of the mountain, though, for coming out of the tunnel, the first spots of rain appeared.  By the time we reached Glarus itself, it was torrential and set in for the rest of the day.  Just as well we managed to park right outside the concert venue, then!

 

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So, a day of art, music and literature, though whether Heidi counts in the last group is open for discussion, I think.  Maybe that box was ticked by the readings of Dumas and Tolstoy which were interspersed with the Raff piano duets, then?  No matter, we’d enjoyed every bit of our day again, and saying a last goodbye to our friends for this time round, we returned to Rapperswil tired but happy.

Maybe I’ll manage to stay awake long enough to finish Heidi?!

Saturday
Sep202014

The cows have come home

 

We had no plans for today, except for an arrangement to meet friends for apero and dinner this evening, so did a little search online to see what was on.  The answer was here so off we went in the general direction of Luzern, initially, and then onward to the village of Emmetten, where today there would be the “Alpabzug”, when the cows would be brought down through the village after spending the summer on the high alp above the lake.

 

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We left the car in the car park and walked down into the centre of the village, where the market was getting going and the band were tuning up.

 

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Dressed in their traditional costume, the band made a great sound and provided the perfect accompaniment to our mooch around the village market.

 

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We decided to take a look around, taste a bit of cheese here and salami there and chat to one or two of the stallholders.

 

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We liked the toy stall which was selling a range of farming figures, much the same as those Britain’s toys Edward used to collect as a child.  But the traditional farming roles here were rather more clearly defined for the 21st century, for there was the vet,

 

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the chain saw operator and the strimming man.

 

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The farmer’s wife with a bowl of eggs and the farmer himself, with the pig under his arm were possibly a little more conventionally cast.

 

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Having looked around the market, we decided to explore a little further, enjoying the fine weather and the glorious views along the valley.

 

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Looking up, we were surprised to see a few hang gliders not far above our heads.  I was happy to keep my feet firmly on the ground, though.

 

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The post bus passed us by at regular intervals, too – well, this is Switzerland, after all!

 

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Even out in the sticks, there’s a regular and reliable service.

 

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I took a fancy to this traditionally restored house, near the centre of the village.  Sitting comfortably in a smallish patch of green , it faced the valley and would have marvellous views from those upstairs windows.

 

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It was getting near lunchtime by now, so we returned to the marketplace and found seats at one of the tables where we ordered drinks and bratwurst.  The band were relaxing there, too.

 

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We watched as the little cablecar carried the milk churns up the mountainside and wondered at what time the cows would come home?  No-one seemed to know, though most thought it would be shortly after lunchtime.  So we waited.

 

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It was no problem – the local cider was good and the people watching was fascinating.

 

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Shortly after 12.30pm we noticed people moving, forming groups along the roadside and we looked up the street.  Was something happening up there?

 

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There was no doubt about the noise – a cacophony of bells was coming towards us and zooming in with my camera, sure enough, here they came.

 

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There really is nothing quite like it.  The sound of the cowbells, the pride with which the herdsmen have dressed their cows for the occasion and the way the village turns out to greet them all is quite remarkable.

 

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Each of the cows wore a headress with flowers and flags and of course, an enormous bell.

 

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Most walked quietly on, following the herd and needing little direction.  They eyed those of us on the pavement with curiosity, but paid us no attention otherwise.

 

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Just one or two skittered about, got a little jumpy and wanted to be off in a different direction.  They were soon brought back into the herd and coaxed on their way.

 

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A few towards the back were less ornately decorated, but were nevertheless beautifully groomed and tagged along behind the main herd.  The noise was extraordinary and in little more than a couple of minutes, they were past.

 

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There they were, gone.  We followed them so far, to the car park, where we jumped in our car and headed off up the valley.  That had been worth waiting for!

 

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A little further along, we stopped to take in the magnificent view.  We were in no hurry to return to the hotel and had time to stop and stare.

So we did.

 

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More than once, in fact.  Here, high above the Vierwaldstaettersee, we stood for a while and simply absorbed it all.  Another couple were there at the same time, from the Netherlands, judging from their car registration and we all shared the wonder, nodding and smiling in agreement that it was indeed “wunderschön

 

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We were at Seelisberg and consulted our map to decide which route to take.

 

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Except our map was a walking map rather than a driving map, and the printing around Seelisberg was so concentrated that it was difficult to see where the roads around there were.  We wanted to make our way south to Altdorf, but was there a road under that heavy red walking route?

We set off and drove on further.  “Make a U turn” said the GPS.  We ignored her and continued behind another car.  “Make a U turn” she said again.  We ignored her and carried on – that signpost said “Treib” so there must be a road.  “Make a U turn” she repeated.  But now, the road was getting narrower and we began to doubt our judgement.  Should we?   “Make a U turn" she said again – and this time, oh for heaven’s sake, we did!  Later on, you’ll see why this was the right decision!

 

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So, back we drove, through Seelisberg and snapping a quick shot of the most incongruous building, formerly a grand hotel but now the Global Headquarters of the Transcendental Meditation movement.  How fortunate of them to have such a beautiful spot in which to study!

 

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Of course, our route took us back through Emmetten, where we hoped we wouldn’t get stuck behind another group of cows.  Thankfully, we didn’t and our journey back was trouble free, behind the farmer’s cattle wagon.  As he slowed down to take this corner, though, we spotted something there in the lane, right on the bend. 

 

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He was coming to pick up one of his stragglers – one of the cows from the procession earlier was standing there with her herdswoman, waiting for a lift.  Had the cows come this far then?

 

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Well, yes, they had, for as we indicated to turn left at the junction to join the motorway, we could see them making their way down there on the road into town. In the time we’d taken to drive beyond Seelisberg and back, the herd had walked 4 or 5km down the mountain.  Well, all but one had walked…the other had hitched a lift!

 

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We bade them farewell and joined the motorway towards Fluelen, to make our way home via a different route.

 

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The motorway went into a tunnel shortly afterwards and for several kilometres, we drove directly underneath the villages in which we’d just been standing. 

 

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Driving along the opposite side of the lake, having turned the corner at Fluelen, we spotted the Meditation centre high up there on the alp and the Seelisberg viewpoint just a bit further along.  Then looking directly beneath as the wooded hillside fell directly into the lake, with no shelf nor ledge between the rock and the water, we realised that we had been right to “Make a U turn”!

An hour or so later, we were back, with just enough time to shower and change before meeting our friends.  An evening in good company with the best of Swiss hospitality was a lovely way to round off another wonderful day.

I wonder where we’ll end up tomorrow?!

Friday
Sep192014

Kirschblüte & Edelweiss

 

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If ever there was a theme to tick all the boxes, then an exhibition about textiles influenced by the Swiss textile industry and Japanese design was going to be the one.  I’d read about it on the Bernina blog last week and printed off the details, because it was in St Gallen and maybe, just maybe it would fit nicely with a visit to the Bernina factory?  Of course, this part of Switzerland is the home of fine textiles; that Bernina is based in Steckborn is no accident and on previous visits we’ve found ourselves in assorted factory shops including Wolford a couple of years ago.   The textile museum in St Gallen is home to a wonderful collection of Swiss made lace and fine fabrics as well as a comprehensive library of specialist printed books as well as samples.

 

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We squeezed the car into a tiny spot and made our way down the street.  Finding the museum entrance was rather easier than we’d anticipated!

 

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We loved the tickets, printed on scraps of fabric and were especially pleased that the elegant lady on the reception desk carefully found us two very different designs.

 

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The panel at the top of the stairs summed up the theme nicely, with a vignette of Fuji-san framed with edelweiss flowers!

 

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The exhibition began with a few examples of oriental fabrics followed by a display of traditional Swiss designs.  I loved the way these were presented, for although the light was dimmed the sheen on the embroideries was shown to great effect by these curved mounts.

 

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Some of the Swiss whitework samples depicted a familiar motif: that of Wilhelm Tell and his son, in the same pose as the monument in Altdorf.

 

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Our breaths were taken away by the display of katagami patterns in the next room.  A video showed how these Japanese stencils were cut by hand and used to print textiles.

 

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The precision was exquisite – this section would be around four inches wide and it was these patterns which inspired some of the fine Swiss embroidery and printing.

 

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At the same time, the European fashion for flowered collars was being followed by Japanese craftsmen and as roses were appearing on textiles n the Orient, in Switzerland the chrysanthemum and camellias began to appear.

 

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Here too, the displays were attractively presented and the story really well told, although it was becoming difficult to tell if we were looking at Swiss influenced Japanese work or vice versa.  I think that was probably the whole point!

 

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There were so many beautifully arranged collections, I took way too many photographs!

 

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When my camera battery died, I switched to my phone!  Sadly, the single light above each of the displays features in each of my photographs, however.

 

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The last room featured contemporary textiles, mostly made in Switzerland but made for a Japanese market.

 

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Japanese taste and fashion is so curious!

 

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The next room held the library and though we didn’t have a great deal of time to linger here, I simply had to go in and take a closer look at this wonderful structure.

 

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Those books on the table contain a wealth of samples- just opening one at a random page reveals such treasure!

 

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Very temping to slip one in my bag… if only they were not so huge!

 

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Before we left, we took a look inside the room at the end of the corridor, finding a huge machine in there.  Though it looked like a loom, on closer inspection it appeared to be some kind of embroidery machine.

 

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There, beside it was the paper design, drawn out on graph paper with a sample of the actual finished embroidery alongside.  This appeared to be an early equivalent of the printout from the digitised design I recently completed using my Bernina Embroidery software, but how was this going to be used to embroider?

 

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The answer was soon to hand, because a member of the museum staff appeared, hopped onto the stool and began to operate the machine.  Painstakingly, she placed the point of the plotter on a point on the graph paper with her left hand and wound the handle of the machine with her right.  As she did, a series of fifty of so needles made a single stitch in fifty or so small, individual motifs.  She then wound the handle to return the needles to their original position before moving the plotter to the next point and repeating the process.

 

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Though my photograph shows only one line of motifs, there were actually two, one above the other, so although the process was incredibly slow, a large number of motifs were embroidered at the same time.  But when I spoke to the embroiderer about changing the colour of thread in each of those fifty needles, she raised an eyebrow…  Bearing in mind the ease with which my machine will stitch out a design, the speed with which it will operate and the accuracy of each stitch, it’s remarkable how far we’ve come in little more than a hundred years.

 

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The end result was mounted into greeting cards, for sale in the museum shop. 

 

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Our last photograph in the museum was a beautiful display of katagami patterns, possibly machine cut, larger than the originals and hung in the light of the windows behind them.  This was a stunning museum, full of the most fascinating exhibits and we had really enjoyed our visit.

 

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After a walk around St Gallen, thinking of Mary and our last visit here,  we took the scenic route home, over the alpine pastures and waving as we passed by Appenzell.

 

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Someone was rather proud of her enormous bell and posed beautifully by the roadside as we drove past.  Love her!

 

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This evening, we chose one of the many restaurants by the lakeside to enjoy Zürcher Geschnetzeltes with Rösti and watched as the sun went down over the lake.

We are so lucky to be here.

Friday
Sep192014

Made in Switzerland

 

It’s a while since we had a Bernina post around here, but this morning gave me plenty to fill in the gaps, because we went to Steckborn, where “the greatest sewing machines in the world” are born.  First, however, I had an errand to run at the post office here in Rapperswil.

 

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I couldn’t believe my luck when I found an empty counter, but my jaw dropped in amazement when a well dressed lady walked straight past me and “pushed in” to receive a warm Gruezi from the clerk.  Huh?  Being a stranger in these parts, I didn’t feel able to do my “Ahem! I believe I was here first” act, but that was just as well, for I then realised that I ought to have collected a ticket as I entered the building and followed the directions on the screen above the counter.

 

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I went back, collected the ticket and stood behind the three customers who had arrived in the meantime.  That’ll teach me:  When in Switzerland, do as the Swiss do – or, do as the English do and join (or form) a queue!

 

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Anyway, errands run, we set out in the car, over the hills and far away.

 

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Well, not really that far – just hour or so due north, to the shores of Bodensee, almost as far north as one can go in Switzerland, in fact.

 

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Though we set out on the motorway, we continued on smaller, country roads and as we always do, we wound the windows down to listen to the cowbells and breathe in the fresh, clean air.

 

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In not much more than an hour, our goal was in sight.  We arrived shortly after 11am to find the whole workforce standing out on the lawn in front of the factory and offices, taking part in a fire drill!

 

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As they filed back indoors, I wondered just which one of them had signed my sewing machine?

 

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We weren’t so sure where to go, but knew from an email conversation with a member of their staff, that there were no factory tours on Fridays, sadly.  But the Creative Centre was open and that was where we headed.

 

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Straight up to the first floor then, to a showroom full of sewing machines, samples and displays – but not a soul in sight.  We tentatively stepped inside and wandered around, calling “Hallo?” to no reply.  Oh well, we thought we’d take a few photos and maybe someone would appear.

 

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My hero had set off around the corner, into a kind of classroom and called me over.  “Good grief”, he said, “just think of how much that trolley full of sewing machines is worth!” (There were five 880s, five 780s and ten embroidery units underneath – somewhere around £50K then?!)

As we ogled the riches, a young woman appeared – no chance of running off with them!!  After a short conversation, she invited us to make ourselves at home, to spend as long as we liked looking around and when we needed her, she’d be right there for us.  The machines were there because she was setting the classroom up for a weekend course for Swiss purchasers of the 880 – the same course as I will attend in November, in London.  I can’t imagine the London environment will be quite so inspiring, however – we’ll see.

 

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It was fun to look around and to see the real life examples from the website and of course, to see ideas and gather inspiration.

 

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I’d not seen this indigo quilt previously, nor had I seen the accessory it was used to promote.  But whilst there, our new best friend, Frau Gross explained it all: the Spanish Hem Stitch attachment was one of the featured accessories.  Oh and yes, it seemed that she had made most of these samples, too.

 

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She explained how this small attachment allows the use of the decorative stitches to create openwork seams like the orange stitching on the book cover above.  I’d not seen it before and knowing there was a video explaining the use online as well, then maybe this gizmo would be my souvenir?  Needless to say, however, I had another couple of other feet on my wishlist (held on the Bernina App on my phone Winking smile ) and seeing those on the display, I soon had a small collection to purchase.

 

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As we completed the transaction, Frau Gross passed my hero a small gift from Bernina.

 

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I’m not sure how often he uses a tape measure, but rest assured, when he does, he will have the perfect tool for the job!  As for me, well, I had a copy of the latest Inspirations magazine – and of course, the pleasure of seeing the source of the many projects and resources which I can view online.  Needless to say, I felt inspired to go back and switch my sewing machine on immediately, but we had other plans for the day.  Coincidentally, they were also inspired by Bernina in a blog entry I read just before we left home….seeing a theme here?

I’ll continue the story in the next post.

Thursday
Sep182014

Gruezi Miteinand!

 

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The day began rather earlier than usual, on a murky M4 on the way to the airport.  A noontime flight was just about our limit for not staying overnight and bearing in mind the potential problems with early morning traffic en route, we allowed plenty of time.  Needless to say, having allowed that time, we didn’t need it and so we found ourselves arriving with time to spare.

 

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No, the airport wasn’t really this empty, but just as I thought to take a picture for my journal, there was no-one in view.  Isn’t it spooky how we can give an altogether different version of reality?!

 

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So, after a morning spent sitting in the lounge, waiting, our flight left a little late at 12.30pm, flying through clear skies directly over Paris, en route to Zürich.

 

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I don’t know which I liked best, the spectacle of the city with assorted landmarks to look out for, or the marvellous patterns of the fields of eastern France, so different from the patterns of fields elsewhere in the world: the envelope shapes of Canterbury, New Zealand and the circular patterns created by irrigation systems in North America, for example.

 

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Or the lush, green pastures of northern Switzerland, for that matter.

 

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Our plane was the golden feather patterned Airbus, now looking a bit shabby, but maybe the one used to transport the Olympic flame?

 

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Anyway, having set off from home early this morning, an hour and a half’s flight later we arrived in Zürich, picked up a car and drove to our hotel in Rapperswil, at the southerly tip of the Zürisee,  How come it was now 4.30 pm and where did that day go?

 

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Well, of course, it didn’t really matter, for after a quick shower and change, we set out across the causeway to Lachen, on the other side of the lake, where the vernissage we’d been invited to was being held.  What a beautiful setting to celebrate the publication of a new biography of a man born just steps away and what’s more, the afternoon showers moved on leaving the most gorgeous sky behind them.

 

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It was a fascinating evening with speeches, music, presentations and lively conversation amongst like-minded people.  We chatted over an elegant apéro, made plans to meet our friends for dinner on Saturday before saying our farewells and heading back over the causeway again.

Needless to say, my hero has some rather interesting bedtime reading.