I’m just back from a proper two-week break from work. I say “proper” because it’s rare that I manage to disconnect completely from meetings and email, but given the increased mental load of being attached to Zoom over the last several months, it really felt like a good time to force the break.
It’s been a while since I’ve shared anything travel-related – I did so much more of our big trip of a few years ago, of course – but given the fact many people aren’t travelling much, at the moment, I thought I’d share what we’ve done to help people envision a future where we’ll all be able to travel once again. It’s definitely not my intention to frustrate people, so if you’re not in the mood to see photos of someone’s holiday, please do skip this post.
Our original plan for these two weeks was a great one: we’d been invited by some friends of ours to visit Kosovo with them (that’s where they’re from originally). It’s about a 20-hour drive from our home in Switzerland, but we intended to stop off in Italy and Croatia on the way down.
Just before the holidays started, though, the Swiss Federal Council announced a mandatory 10-day quarantine (with a 10,000 CHF fine attached for non-compliance) for anyone coming back from “risk” areas. These unfortunately included anywhere outside the Schengen zone (as well as one or two countries within it). While a quarantine wouldn’t have been a huge deal for me (workwise, anyway), it didn’t seem fair to impose this on the kids, and our friends in any case weren’t able to make this work with their own jobs. So we had to find a plan B for the 2 weeks.
So it was that on the Saturday morning at the start of the holidays, we assembled our bikes and loaded our camping equipment into a couple of trailers with the plan of cycling around Lake Neuchatel. It’s something we’d always talked about doing, but had never gotten around to.
The first leg was from our home to Grandson, which was the longest leg of the journey. We stopped via Neuchatel to collect our eldest son’s girlfriend and headed onwards from there around the lake.
Our first real stop was in Colombier, next to the airfield, where an old friend and former colleague from Autodesk, Antonio Barroca, is now running a restaurant called La Cantine. (For those of you who know Antonio, I’ll talk more about this place later on in the post.)
We hadn’t booked but were lucky to be able to get the last table (this restaurant is always busy thanks to the high quality of the food and the friendliness of the service). Here we are before the lunchtime rush began.
With fuel in our tanks we continued on around the lake. There are some really lovely spots with gorgeous vineyards.
Some of the villages we went through were also very picturesque. Here’s an old castle on the outskirts of Concise.
The road recommended for cyclists wasn’t always close to the lake: for instance, shortly after Concise the road went up very steeply, but admittedly afforded a beautiful view across the lake.
Eventually we approached the first night’s chosen campsite.
We had asked for a pitch by the lake, and we were really lucky – it was perfect.
The campsite itself was unfortunately a bit noisy: it was a Saturday night, so they had a band playing until after midnight, which meant we didn’t get a great night’s sleep. But that’s camping for you.
The next morning we visited some good friends of ours who live up the hill in Grandson for a brunch, before heading on a short leg around to Yvonnand.
Shortly after the town of Yverdon an area of great natural beauty opens up, la Grande Cariçaie. It’s a nature reserve that stretches around much of this side of the lake.
We stopped off once or twice along this stretch, once because we wanted to and once because the wheel almost fell off one of the trailers.
We were really impressed by the second night’s campsite. It was a fantastic setting amongst trees once again by the side of the lake.
We’d again asked for a lakeside pitch – this time somewhere quiet – and we had another great one.
The next morning we headed onwards to Estavayer-le-Lac, another shortish leg.
Once again we passed through la Grande Cariçaie.
The town of Estavayer is really pretty – you can see it up on the hill from the lake.
We arrive nice and early, which gave us time to grab some lunch on the (admittedly very windy) beach.
Aside from the wind, we honestly had the feeling of being somewhere much more exotic.
Our pitch for the night wasn’t quite as pretty. It was very close to the toilets and showers, though.
While the kids all enjoyed the beach, the parents head into town to get provisions.
Afterwards we wandered around the lakeside to enjoy watching the kite-surfers (something that’s very much on my bucket list).
That’s the positive side of it being a very windy day, of course.
Three nights of camping is pretty much our limit, in all honesty, so we decided for the fourth leg to head back home.
All was going well until we came to the town of Portalban. As we started up this incline, I joked about the fact the “13%” sign showed the probability of arriving at the top of this slope (which was a tough one with the heavy trailers). Just as I did so my chain went “ping!”
Having lost all form of propulsion, all I could do was remove the chain and roll back down to the base of the hill, where we locked the bike and trailer in the shade and waited for help.
Here’s the damaged chain.
Just before the holidays I’d upgraded our Touring Club Suisse (TCS) membership to their Sociétariat offering, which includes breakdown assistance for the whole family for basically any land-based mode of transport. We had time to grab a quick pizza before Yann from the TCS arrived to fix my chain.
Between the two of us it was quickly done.
We were back on the road! We managed to get up the hill on the next attempt, thankfully. The road flattened off for most of the journy home.
We got home on Tuesday night feeling as though we’d been away for weeks. A great way to kick off a two week break!
We had a few days to recover at home before we headed up to the mountains, to the town of Adelboden (somewhere we love to visit at any time of the year).
We often visit a place called Engstligenalp – and it’s beautiful waterfall – but this was the first time we chose to walk up from the bottom. It was a longish hike (a couple of hours, give or take) and we encountered a herd of goats towards the top.
They were friendly enough but we did our best to leave them in peace.
Here’s a selfie I took with a view over the waterfall.
And here’s one with the kids.
And finally here’s one which is really just of the waterfall itself.
The low cloud and the blue sky made for a magical moment on the top, as we walked around even ran into some old friends who lived nearby.
Those were the two big events of our fortnight off, I would say. Aside from that, I’ve been trying to cycle – rather than driving – into Neuchatel from time to time, which is a habit I hope to keep going after the current crisis is over.
Here’s a few shots I took from once such trip.
Towards the end of the break, we headed back to La Cantine with some old friends who all have some connection to Autodesk (most are ex-employees while some of us are still employed there). Post a comment if you recognise anyone!
We were the last ones to leave the restaurant, so Antonio was able to pull up a chair and chat. It’s so nice to see how well his business is doing, and so happy and fulfilled he seems. It’s a tough business, but his positive attitude in everything he does is such a breath of fresh air.
Finally, this weekend we went for a dive in the lake. Our second son is doing his initial certification, so my wife and I decided to dive together at the same place on Sunday.
My wife dives much more frequently than I do, but I definitely enjoyed us being able to dive together, just the two of us.
So that was it for our eventful two-week break. I’ve now manage to catch up on most of my email backlog, but still have a number of recorded meetings to watch. Hopefully I’ll be completely back up to speed by tomorrow!