The Swiss Life: A Very Swiss Birthday

Technically I’m a little overdue for this one, but I feel like you’ve gotten mini updates from me over the last few weeks. I’m not going to post too much for this one as I feel like my six month check in should have been satisfied with the posts about the new year and Christmas in Basel. I guess.

Today is my birthday (yay), which has been a good day all in all. It’s a custom here to bring in treats for your birthday, so I tried to go as all-out on American treats as my baking skills (and desire to haul things from the US to Switzerland) would take me. For example, would have loved to bake red velvet cupcakes, but I have never made cream cheese frosting and did not want to experiment for the first time here. And who wants to haul cream cheese frosting over from the US. I found red velvet cookies that were pretty good. And I baked a lot of brownies that came out surprisingly well.

Otherwise, it’s just been a week of easing back into work after being gone for two weeks. It’s been nice being back in Basel (despite the cold). We even had some very light snow; not enough to be messy but just enough to make things look pretty outside. I’ve been walking along the river more often. It’s kind of Eponine-esque when I’m by myself in the cold, but it’s nice to get some walking in and I do love walking along the Rhine.

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My weekend plans fell through, so I’ve also been trying to figure out a plan B. I haven’t gone anywhere in a while (…two week trip back to the US aside), so I feel like it’s time to put on those adventure pants and go somewhere. I’ll figure it out.

Until then, take care.

The Swiss Life: A Very Basel Christmas

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Merry (almost) Christmas everyone! As I’ve spent the majority of the hoilday season in Basel, I felt that it was fitting that my Christmas post would be about Christmas in Basel (even if I am writing here from the US). Amidst the Christmas market hopping this season, I have made sure to spend some time exploring what Basel has to offer for Christmas. It’s truly remarkable how quickly the Herbst Messe turns into the Basel Christmas season. There is a lot to do in Basel for Christmas and I only did a fraction of it (blame my inclination to spend my weeknights with Netflix). Nevertheless, I think I had a pretty nice Basel Christmas season overall.
Christmas Markets

We have to start, of course, with the markets in Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz, which opened on November 22. The Münsterplatz market is pretty big, with a number of food and gift stalls. There are some good drinks and raclette up there, but my favorite stall there was the Öpfelchüechli (deep fried apples in cinnamon) stand. It was absolutely delicious. Shout out to the mulled wine with cherry liquor as well.

The market around Barfüsserplatz truly won me over, though. The small streets in that area transform into what can really only be the very best Christmas maze of food and shopping stalls. I was certainly at several larger markets this season, but there’s a certain coziness to the market that I didn’t get at most of the other markets.

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I should add that there’s a small but lively food area in Claraplatz, too. I had cheese-related food there on multiple occasions.

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Adväntsgass im Glaibasel

Unfortunately, I learned about this one a little too late in the season, but Rheingasse is also a ton of fun around the season. The street is lined with food stands, trucks and, in one case, a double decker fish and chips bus. There’s less shopping than there is food and a lot of drinking, which is fine with me.

There’s a nice variety of food, too. You’ll get the classic Christmas market foods, but there were also some international stands. I made my standard mistake and food excited for the food early on, so missed some of the more interesting options later on.

There was also a parade of drumming Santas walking by as I was there. I don’t know if that was my good timing or if that’s a regular event, but it was pretty cool.

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Marktplatz and Rathaus

On Thursdays, there are jazz performances in Marktplatz. There are some food and drink stands nearby (obviously), so you can eat and drink while listening to bands perform for a few hours in the evening.

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The Rathaus is beautifully decorated for Christmas, with a large tree in the middle. It’s worth taking a short stop in there, if anything to add your holiday wishes to the Basler Wunschbuch (wish book).

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Food and Drinks

Unsurprisingly, food and drink is plentiful but expensive in Basel around this time of year. The selection isn’t quite the same as what you get at the Herbstmesse, but you still get a good selection of food and drink at the market.

As I mentioned, the Öpfelchüechli was the highlight for me from the Münsterplatz market. I probably only needed it once, but was still sad when the stall was closed for the night when I went to that market for the second time.

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There was plenty of raclette, glühwein and wurst, of course, and there was no way I would miss out on either of those while I was there. We had wurst at the stall with the talking moose heads, which was special. There’s also pretty good flammenkuchen flatbread in Barfüsserplatz.

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Several stands sold fondue-filled baguettes, which kind of operated as a fondue in a bread bowl concept, but could work as a good food to walk around with. Head my warning, though. This stuff is messy. I got fondue everywhere – the floor, my jacket, etc. Worth it. There are several stalls that will sell this, but the fondue dog stand (which I actually initially mistook for fondue-filled hot dogs) was my favorite. I think the onions made the difference.

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There are plenty of your standard sweets as well. Other than the obligatory begge schmutz, I actually didn’t get too many sweets at the market this time. It’s probably because I’ve had so many Swiss Christmas cookies this season. They were everywhere and pretty consistently delicious. My favorite of the bunch are the cinnamon Zimsterne, but I also have a soft spot for the Brunsli. So good.

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What I Missed

There’s actually a lot more to Christmas in Basel that I missed. There is a big fairy maze that’s a little more oriented to children. There are advent activities around the theater and a Christmas circus. The little Rhine boats are open and decorated for Christmas. And, of course, there is the Johann Wanner Christmas store, which is a Basel institution. It’s supposedly enormous, but I haven’t yet had the chance to visit it. While I am sure it is especially lovely around Christmas, I can’t say I’m too torn up about missing this one. It’s open year round 😉

All in all, the Christmas season in Basel is a wonderful way to get in the spirit of the seasons. There are beautiful lights everywhere in the old town and the city is absolutely lively. There is something very special and intimate about it and I ended up comparing a lot of my other Christmas Market Tour stops to Basel.

And with that, I wish you all the happiest of holidays.

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The Swiss Life: Five Months and Thanksgiving Abroad

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Hello, my friends. It is Monday and time for my monthly check in. I have returned from a weekend in Vienna where I went face-to-face with my first real experience with snow since getting here (not counting Klein Matterhorn because it’s always there). If it taught me anything, it’s that my boots are not well-equipped for walking around in the snow. At least I didn’t fall, right?

So, I’ve apparently been here for five months, which is somewhat mindblowing, and I have to admit that Basel has kind of started to feel like home. The food stalls and rides from the Herbstmesse have quickly (and I mean, quickly) been replaced with Christmas decorations and markets. The weather has gotten significantly colder (although, it’s been oddly warm today).

Thanksgiving has come and gone and there was a lot to be thankful for this year. A lot. This includes the assortment of things that were sent or brought to me, in part thanks to my previous post whining about various things I wanted. I have never before been so happy to see Tapatio and the Takis are, somewhat embarrassingly, almost all gone. Now I just need to go to Target and impulse buy graphic t-shirts when I’m back in the States next month…

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This isn’t the first time I spent Thanksgiving in another country. Hell, it’s only been two years since Chris and I had our Thanksgiving dinner in Phuket. This, however, was different. Thanksgiving was really just like any other day. It was a little strange to spend the day without any stuffing, pie or turkey, but it also wasn’t that bad. It helped to have everyone around, even if it was a very chaotic week in this very full house. And because this year has just been so different, Thanksgiving dinner wasn’t really the traditional sit down and stuff your face day. Instead, we went to the opening of the Basel Christmas Market. Well, Chris and I ate at the market. Everyone else had kimchi jjigae before we left and were, therefore, too full to eat at the market. Pretty typical, I’d say.

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So, that’s that. We’re barely into December and it’s turned into a little winter wonderland everywhere I’ve been. Christmas in Europe is certainly something else and I’m about half way through Alea’s 2018 Christmas Market Tour. You’d think I’d be done with warm alcoholic drinks after this weekend in Vienna, but I have several more stops to go. Also, can one really ever tire of mulled wine? Probably yes, but it’s not happening any time soon.

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The Swiss Life – What I Miss at Four Months

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It’s Friday and I am putting my stuff together for my early morning train to Lyon tomorrow. Over the weekend, I will be eating my way around town and will also hit my four month milestone. Now, I’ve spent the last three months reflecting on what each month here has been like, but I think it’d be fun to do a list of ten things (aside from the the obvious friends and family etc) that I miss from home. The list is kind of silly, so spare me the concert of the tiny violins.
In no particular order
1. Carnitas

I could say that I miss Mexican food in general and it wouldn’t be a lie. I am a Californian and good Mexican food is a staple. I miss having a cheap Mission-style burrito and I could really do with some La Vics orange sauce every now and then. The truth is, however, that I’ve found the stuff to cook simple dishes at home and can even make guacamole. And while it’s certainly not cheap, I have located at least one pretty decent restaurant in town (more Tex-Mex than Cali-Mex). Kabobs have more or less also filled the burrito void in my life.

What I cannot replicate here in Switzerland, however, are carnitas. I miss carnitas. If you can tell me where I can find it here in Basel, I will be your friend for life.
2. Target

There’s always something comforting about the fact that if you know your way around one Target, you know your way around pretty much every other one. There’s something convenient about having everything you need there in one place. There are a few stores here that come pretty close to it and I’ve been growing pretty attached to the Migros XXL in Claraplatz (they close late for Swiss standards, too). Still, it’s not quite the same.

An honorary mention here is Costco. There are some things that you just need to bulk buy.
3. Sundays

On a related note, I miss stores that are open on Sundays. Granted, there are, thankfully, stores around the train station that are open on Sundays, but I never realized how convenient it is to have stores open on Sundays until you don’t get them.
4. Boba

I miss boba and I miss having many boba options. There are at least five boba shops within a two mile radius of me back home, which made late night boba runs or mid-errand boba breaks so easy. The good news is that I found out via one of the three Basel ex-pat communities I’m in that they just started selling boba at one of the restaurants in town. Haven’t been yet, but I will. Hopefully, it’s good. The boba I had in Amsterdam was just okay.
5. Hulu

We don’t have cable at home, so I actually watch most of my TV shows on Hulu and most of the good shows that have dropped off of Netflix are also there. I have my fair share of media on Netflix, but I’m also terribly behind on a lot of the fall shows because Hulu is only available in the US. The same applies to the HBO app. I know I can watch the recaps on YouTube, but I miss our Sunday John Oliver nights.
6. Takis

They’re messy and give you disgusting red-stained hands, but they’re so good.
7. Korean Food

As with Mexican food, I’ve found some workarounds for this one that has made this a little better. It helps that I brought a giant container of gojuchang with me here and that I’ve found a store that sells pre-made kimchi. I can cook some of the dishes that I need to satisfy these cravings or at least wait until Chris is here to make anything remotely complicated for me. Nevertheless, there are still are some dishes missing from my life and no Korean restaurants in Basel to fill that void. Given the recent drop in temperature, I’ve been especially missing the comfort of a bowl of sulungtang these days.
8. Amazon

I guess this can be the year that I break myself of my awful Amazon addiction. Shopping on Amazon is a little harder here in Switzerland. There are workarounds (mine being to stockpile things from Amazon for when Chris comes here), but I am missing the convenience of being able to order almost anything and get it in a day or two (or even the same day). I will say, however, that there is something liberating about not having a constant pile of open Amazon boxes lying around the house.
9. “Bad” Cheese

I know, cry me a river. Not only am I living in a country known for its cheeses, but I am also living a stone’s throw from several other countries known for their cheeses. Look, do not get me wrong. I love the cheese situation over here, but sometimes you just need a bag of cheap shredded cheddar to throw into your food. The good thing about living in a country known for its cheeses is that there are some solutions. There are a few cheeses I’ve had identified that have somewhat comparable flavor profile. In a spark of creativity, we even got a bag of fondue cheese for our chili one night.
10. Halloween

Halloween is more of an adopted holiday here and is (probably rightfully) more geared towards kids. It’s not really like we do much for the holiday and the prevalance of incredible chocolate here means that I’m not really short on candy, but it was sad not to dress up in the office or carve pumpkins this year.

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I still dressed up, though, because it’s Halloween. At some point I searched for indoor rock climbing gyms here in Basel to get a spidey picture of me climbing. I talked myself out of that idea, though because 1) even at my best, I could not boulder to save my life and 2) I have no one to belay me. I’m also pretty sure I don’t remember any of the knots…

In all seriousness, though, as much as I whine and as quiet as things got after Chris left, things continue to be good in these parts. The cold is officially gone and there are some pretty cool weekends currently in the works.

The most fitting way to end this post is with a Halloween picture of the stinkiest individual that I miss:

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Also, if you’re in the US and haven’t done so already, go vote. Seriously.

Herbstmesse in Basel

It’s fall, so the days have gotten shorter, the skies have gotten darker, the weather has gotten colder, and the Herbstmesse (Autumn Fair) has hit Basel. The fair started on Saturday and will be in town for the next three weeks. The fair spans different parts of the city. Each section of the fair has its own flavor and attractions. There is the big ferris wheel in Münsterplatz, the drop ride in Messeplatz, the markets of Petersplatz, and so on. With the bright lights of the rides all over the city, it almost makes the sky line look like a low key Las Vegas. Okay, maybe very low key.

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I ended up spending the weekend at home, despite the fact that my initial plan was to go to Montreux for the weekend. I ended up canceling that plan because of the rain and because I’ve realized that I’ve been going kind of non-stop for a while and needed a break (something I realized while I was in the online queue to get Hamilton tickets in SF). Also, I had a cold. Maybe that was the main reason. In any case, between the cold, the self-imposed break, and the rain, I spent most of the weekend indoors.

I did drag myself out on Saturday to get groceries and, despite the aforementioned rain and cold, took a small detour to explore some of the fair. I had some sausages and also realized it’s officially mulled wine season(!!).

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Saturday was otherwise low key. Sunday was not as rainy and I was feeling better, so I dragged myself out for a long walk and to explore more of the Herbstmesse.

I grabbed dinner the Barfüsserplatz location, where I had more sausage, mulled wine, and chocolate. This spot is was a little more children’s ride oriented, but it was fun watching the crazy ski lift ride.

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From there, I climbed up to Münsterplatz with the intention of going on the big ferris wheel. There were many more rides up there, a lot of games and a whole lot of food. I ended up talking myself out of doing the ferris wheel, mostly because that seemed like a sad thing to do by myself.

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I also dragged myself out to Peterplatz tonight in an effort to not sit at home all night. I also heard that’s where the markets are. This has probably been my favorite part of Herbstmesse so far. It’s a maze of food stalls and shops. There’s even a ceramics market there, where I did some “window” shopping.

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I had a lot of fun exploring Peterplatz. I’ll probably end up back there because I was too full from fries to try the pastel de nata (!) that they had there. I also want to go back to the ceramics market.

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The fair will be here for a few more weeks and there is more of it to see, so the Herbstmesse explorations aren’t over. I may even talk myself into riding one of the rides.

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Wandering Basel: The Tinguely Museum

This weekend has been a quiet one. Chris left very early on Saturday and after another month of back-to-back travel, I figured I was due for a weekend’s worth of hanging around Basel. Next week is the start of the Basel autumn fair, so you can see pieces of the fair being assembled around town, including an enormous blink and it appeared ferris wheel.

Today, I decided to continue my ongoing tour of Basel and made a visit to the Tinguely Museum. In full transparency, I was going to do the zoo, but the penguins don’t come back until December (according to the website). In any case, the Tinguely Museum is dedicated to the Swiss artist Jean Tinguely, who is known for his moving metallic pieces of art.

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You see his art work scattered in different places throughout the city, but this one has many more. It walks you through the history of his work, starting with his biography and early work and ending with the absolutely haunting Mengele – Dance of Death, which is one of his later works.

The museum is also moderately interactive in that there are buttons that you can press to make the machines move. The machines are a little slow to react and don’t always respond. I think that’s intentional so people don’t wear out the machines, but they are pretty fun to watch.

There are also some scattered videos, including footage from the self-destructive machine he made in New York.

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The machines of the museum vary quickly from fanciful to creepy to delightfully steampunk.

The big machine at the center of it all is a giant machine you can walk in and out of. This one did go off when I was in it and it was absolutely delightful.

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Tinguely did a lot of machines where you could attach a felt pen and have it draw something for you. For 3CHF, you can buy a blank piece of paper, a coin, and the two very fun minutes where you get to make the machine move and draw something for you. Obviously, I had to do it.

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The end result looked like a scribble, but it is my Tinguely scribble.

In any case, the Tinguely Museum is a fascinating museum and well-worth the visit.

The Swiss Life: Reflecting on 3 Months

We hit the three month mark a couple days ago and it’s still crazy how fast time flies. The days are starting to get shorter, the skies are turning more gray and I think the number of people floating down the Rhine has gone down to zero. I guess it’s officially fall.

The past month has been good, with a number of trips both within and outside of Switzerland. Things like the trash system (which should post about at some point) that once seemed so different have become normal. And it doesn’t hurt that I’ve had Chris here for the past couple of weeks.

I’ve been taking German lessons and have been on the painfully slow self-imposed quest of reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone in German.

And yet, despite having lived in a country on the metric system for a quarter of a year, I still cannot do the Fahrenheit-Celcius conversion. Ask me again in three months maybe 🤷