Soccer Trip to Zürich

Chris is gone and my cold is nearly gone. There is still a slight hint of a cough remaining, but I have otherwise recovered. As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, the cold hit me pretty hard and I’m actually very surprised that Chris didn’t catch it from me.

In any case, we were supposed to go Budapest on the weekend of Feb 2, but Chris convinced me the night before that maybe a 6 am flight when I was suffering from a cold and looked awful was a bad idea. I had figured that we could just hang out in one of the thermal baths for most of the day, but the idea of flying with sinus pain also didn’t sound appealing. I was disappointed that I would be missing out on langos and goulash for the weekend, but I think it was the better choice. In any case, I was able to cancel the hotel in time and the flights were ridiculously cheap when I got them.

Despite the cold, I wasn’t going to give up on the weekend. Chris found out that FC Basel was playing Grasshopper (one of the Zürich teams). Somehow, Chris’s scheduled trips out here would have him miss every FC Basel home game in one way or the other, so we decided our Sunday would be spent in Zürich. This meant that our Saturday was reserved for grocery shopping, a trip to the olive oil festival at Markthalle and (perhaps most importantly) a trip to the FC Basel fan shop to prepare for the game.

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We decided to make a day of it in Zürich with an early start to do a walking tour of the city. We met with the group and it almost instantly started snowing. In retrospect, a walking tour in the snow with a cold was the prime recipe to make me more sick, but I did a good job of layering and was pretty warm throughout the day.

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The tour stuck mostly around the Old Town and while it felt pretty short in the grand scheme of things, the cold started wearing me down towards the end. It was a good tour, though, with a good mix of city history and Swiss culture. We even got chocolate at the end of the tour, which is never a bad thing.

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The tour ended around lunch time and we were tired of walking around in the snow. We hopped on the tram to get back to where we met for the tour and have lunch at the Restaurant Zeughauskellar, which was the old armory. They have a lot of traditional food and beers there, which made for a pleasant (and warm) lunch.

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Now, in our initial plans for the day, we were going to spend the remaining time before the game at the most fitting place for a soccer day, the FIFA Museum. The snow must have gotten to our heads, however, because we completely forgot that the museum existed. Instead, we walked around the corner to the Fraumünster Church (built in the 800s!!). It cost 5 CHF to get in (audio guide included). The church is not that big, but the audio guide was pretty expansive and the famous Chagall windows were quite incredible. Unfortunately, there were no photos allowed inside.

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It was around this time that we realized that we had forgotten about our planned visit to the FIFA Museum, but we only had about 30 minutes until we needed to head towards the stadium and decided the time would be better spent in a cafe getting tea and hot chocolate. It was a nice way to stay out of the cold. After a short break, we caught a tram to Letzigrund Stadium for the game.

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The stadium wasn’t too crowded, but it was still a very active crowd. Both of the fan groups were very spirited, as was our section. Interestingly, this was the first time we were attending a soccer game as an away supporter (unless you count the USMNT games we’ve attended where we were vastly outnumbered by the actual away supporters). It was strange to realize that this was the first time we did it, but it just felt like any other game (except when the crowd contested bad foul calls/non-calls).  It didn’t hurt that FC Basel won the game 4-0.

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We jumped on a tram as soon as the game ended to get back to the train station. We wanted to catch a train back to Basel. Chris slept and I read.

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All in all, our somewhat impromptu Zürich trip turned out to be a lot of fun and probably the perfect about of energy expenditure for me with my cold. I don’t think I could have done Budapest with the cold. More importantly, we got our second soccer weekend in a row and we finally got our FC Basel game. We won’t miss out on our chance to see St. Jakob Stadium as we are going to be seeing a Eurocup Qualifier between Switzerland and Denmark there next month.

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The Swiss Life: Seven Months and a Snow Day

Can you believe I’ve been out here for seven months? Time flies. In any case, my Californian spirit has been dealing with the cold. I suppose I can’t complain. It’s cold, but not like -50 degrees cold. We’ve even had a few snow days here in Basel. The snow doesn’t last long here. It’s just long enough to short-lived pretty winter wonderland views, but doesn’t last long enough that I have to slosh around in the snow. It’s perfect.

The thing about living out here is that it seems like people were born skiing. The thing about being a born and raised Californian who is married to another born and raised Californian is we are somehow awkward around snow. Neither of us ski and neither of us were going to suddenly learn how to do it this year. Nevertheless, we thought we should take advantage of the fact that we are significantly closer to snow than we are back home and decided to have a snow day.

The plan was to head out to Luzern so we could make it up to the nearby Mount Pilatus and do something in the snow. At minimum, there would be fondue consumption involved.

We got to Luzern and immediately found out that the weather conditions would prevent us from making it all the way to the top of the mountain. We could still make it part of the way up, though, which was what we intended to do. So, we took the bus out to Kriens so we could take the cable car as far as we were permitted to go.

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When we got our tickets, we were asked if we wanted to get sled passes. We briefly considered it, but wanted to wait it out because we didn’t think we could get 25 CHF worth of sledding in. Now, my image of sledding is buying a cheap plastic thing from the store and sledding down small hills. It’s the extent of my snow-related activity given that I don’t ski or snowboard. As we rode up the cable car, we quickly learned that sledding here is actually involves pretty steep slopes and is a little more intense than what I’m used to back home. Given that we came out dressed in our jeans and are not remotely as outdoorsy as we might think we are, we were glad we didn’t go with the sled passes. Ultimately, it probably would have been a funny story to tell, but the adventure to get there would not have been pretty.

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What this means, though, was that there wasn’t much for us in this area intended for sledding. We failed at eating at the restaurant too because it was so. crowded. Instead, we walked around and took in the snow.

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We then took the cable car to the next stop down the mountain and walked around for a while in the snow. This proved to be difficult without dedicated snow shoes, but it meant that things were slippery and we couldn’t go too far. We started making a snowman, but really only ended up throwing snow balls at each other before getting back onto the cable car to get back down to town.

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Once back in Luzern, we walked for a while in search of food. Since we failed to get our fondue in snow-covered surroundings, we found a restaurant in town and got it there instead.

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After lunch, we walked around town a little to digest all the melted cheese. They’re in pre-carnival preparation, so you could see some carnival-esque decorations throughout the town. There was also a collection of carnival floats on display in the train station.

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We caught a train back home shortly after that point so we could use the rest of the Sunday to recover from snow and soccer. The snow day was fun, but I think it ultimately may have proved that we are not snow people.

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Soccer in Freiburg and a Vogel Gryff Dance

I disappeared for a while because I have been sick. As in cancel our weekend travel plans sick. I’m mostly better, minus the nasty cough.

In any case, this means that I’m several posts behind so it’s about time to catch up. We’ll start with a short one. Last Saturday turned out to be somewhat of a double feature. It didn’t mean to be. Saturday was supposed to be our day of touring Freiburg and watching a soccer game. But, we got the added bonus that it happened to be the 2019 Vogel Gryff dance.

This is a day of celebration of Kleinbasel where the Vogel Gryff, the lion and the Wilder Man dance around the city. We only caught parts of it. The morning starts with the Wilder Man’s cruise down the Rhine.

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The lion and the Vogel Gryff apparently dance around the city while people collect money for the needy. We missed that and went straight for the procession across the bridge.

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We didn’t follow the festivities much longer after that. Things got packed on the bridge and we had a train to Freiburg to catch, so we left the event shortly after noon with a quick stop by the cheese festival in Markthalle along the way.

In any case, the main event of the day was our soccer trip and (hopefully first) foray into the Bundesliga. We met with some folks from the office from the office first for a short tour of the Old Town.

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This included a trip to the Freiburg Münster, where I saw the best nativity scene ever.

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From the Münster, we decided to start walking to the stadium for the game. And I mean that we walked to the stadium. We were supposed to catch one of the trams, but they were absolutely jam-packed with people. We were told that it takes twenty minutes to walk to the stadium from old town, but it ended up being a nice frisk 50 minutes. It worked out, though, as we made it to the stadium just in time for the game.

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The game was a lot of fun. Hoffenheim is a bit of a regional rival for SC Freiburg. We were told that their games are almost always high-scoring and this one was no exception. Well, except that Freiburg lost. There was the bad goal the hurt my heart in a way I haven’t felt since I’ve been home at my Quakes games and a pretty lame penalty kick call. It was fun, though, and was accompanied by glühwein, which was good but primarily served the purpose of warming my hands.

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After the game, we got our SC Freiburg scarves from the fan shops. There was some chaos getting shuttles back to Old Town, where the group got separated, but we all eventually found each other. We ended the night at the Feierling Brewery for schnitzel and some very delicious beer before making our way back to Basel.

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Wandering Basel: A Night at the Museums

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Last Friday (January 18) was the annual Museums Night (or Museumsnacht) here in Basel. It’s an annual event every January where most (all?) of Basel’s museums are open from 6 pm to 2 am with special programs and giveaways throughout the city. It was something I wasn’t going to do at first because I assumed it’d be a night of clubs and loud music all night, but the programs sounded interesting. I figured I could check out a few spots for the 24 CHF of admission and be home by nine if it truly wasn’t my thing.

The night turned out to be a lot more of an adventure than I expected. I didn’t expect to see so many people wandering the streets and in all of the museum. You also don’t get the full impact of how many museums that are in Basel until they’re all at your disposal in one night. I started off the day with a general itinerary of activities I wanted to hit during the night. At some point, though, the true joy of Museumsnacht was just to wing it and follow the mood, crowd and your whims.

I started the night at the Basel Paper Mill. Sure, it seems strange to start with one of the museums that I have been to, but the museum continues to be a great place to geek out at. That and they were using a printing press to press text onto noodles.

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The noodles were edible too, or at least I hope they were because I may or may not have eaten some. I also spent quite some time on the top floor of the museum watching some artists engage in art of Scherenschnitt, which is the traditional Swiss paper cutting craft. It absolutely mesmorizing to watch and I could have stayed there for a while. The designs were so elaborate. But, alas, it was Museumsnacht and I had places to go and things to see.

I made an unplanned stop at the Kunstmuseum Gegenwart location as it was just up the street. There was a lot of modern art and most of the exhibits were centered around a big war games exhibit that I’d seen advertised for a while. It was fascinating, if not a little unnerving at times.

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After a brief interlude for some glühwein, I continued on my adventure. My next stop was actually the Cartoon Museum because they had a whole crime solving event going on and that sounded exactly like something that I would go all out for. Unfortunately, as I approached, I could tell that many other people found that event appealing as there was a long line leading out the door.

Instead, I ended up at the Antinkenmuseum, which is full of ancient statues and antiquities. There was a big exhibit on nudity in classic art and there were supposed to be live statues wandering the event, but I saw none of them. Aside from a surprise baby mummy in the Egyptian section, this one was a lot of fun and I probably could have spent a lot more time in there. Unfortunately, it was also incredibly hot and stuffy inside, which is not something that blends well with glühwein.

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From there, it was up to the Munster to walk along the cloisters in the dark. There was soemthing a little eerie about how dark it was. There were several musicians preparing to play music, but I cut out before any of it started. What I did end up catching was the inside of the Munster, something that I realized that I had never seen.

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My plan was to either grab some quick food and then either go to the Natural History Museum because it’s the Natural History Museum or get on the bus to see the Picasso events at the Foundation Beyler. Instead, I decided that a sit down restaurant would be a welcome break after a couple of hours of walking. Then I got distracted after dinner from my path to the Natural History Museum and ended up getting some boba. It was perfect.

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I don’t remember what museum I was trying to get to after that point, but there was a musical performance going on that I wanted to check out. I somehow got museums mixed up (as one does) and ended up at the Basel History Museum. The coolest thing about this museum was the exhibit dedicated to the Dance of Death painting.

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One thing I noticed throughout the city on the adventures from the night was that there were a lot of people wearing top hats with rabbits in them. I really wanted one and didn’t know where to get one until I saw an enormous line coming out of the Dollhouse Museum. I remembered that they’ve had a hat thing going on for quite some time and it all suddenly clicked and I knew where to go.

The line took forever, but I got to see bits of the museum on the way up to get it. The museum had a bit of a creepy Pretty Little Liars vibe to it, but it was also impressively jam-packed with stuff. The hat collection was the best part, though. After about an hour, I got my hat too.

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Somehow, it was 11 pm at that point. While I probably could have thrown a few more stops into my itinerary, I had also started to get very sore from what turned out to be a lot of walking. For some reason, this meant that I had to take a relatively long walk out to the Sculpture Museum because they had a whole Harry Potter theme going on. Most importantly, there was a Harry Potter trivia/scavenger hunt event, but it was in German as was the lecture on what looked like comparisons between ancient folklore and Harry Potter characters. I walked around the Sculpture Museum a little longer, but decided that it was probably time to start heading home.

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I honestly did not expect to have so much fun during Museumsnacht, but I was pleasantly surprised. What’s crazy is that I only hit a small fraction of the events of the night. There was so much more that I had flagged to do for the night when I was planning my agenda. In the end, though, there was something fun about the somewhat aimless jaunt around town. I saw a number of museums that I don’t think I would have otherwise seen while I was here. I should still try to get out to the Natural History Museum, though.

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Castle Hopping in Bellinzona

When my plans to visit Milan over my birthday weekend fell through, I shifted my travel plans to Bellinzona in the Italian canton of Switzerland. Bellinzona is the capital of Ticino and is known for the three castles that are in the city (all of which were named UNESCO World Heritage sites). Not only would this let me keep my opportunity to test how poor my Italian speaking has gotten, but I realized on the train over that it was my first time since getting here to Switzerland last year that I was visiting one of the non German-speaking cantons (although I have been before).

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If I had hustled enough, I probably could have done Bellinzona as day trip, but I didn’t feel like spending most of my day on the train with a late night return to Basel. Also, I thought it’d be a great idea to try to see a Tibetan bridge in the mountain. So, I instead made it an overnight trip, which allowed me to leave an hour later in the morning and take things slowly.
Saturday Market

I got into Bellinzona late morning and after putting my stuff down in the hotel, I ventured down to the Saturday market.

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The market is relatively large and while it did have wide variety of food, it also had a number of stands selling clothes and crafts. I also used that time to try food from a couple of stands for a (somewhat) on the go lunch.

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I made my way towards Monte Carasso from the market, but we talked about that one already, so I’ll spare you the details again.
Castelgrande

I got back to town with some day light to spare, so I decided to see the first of the three castles. Castelgrande is the closest to town and, therefore, the easiest to get to. It was also the big stronghold of the city and has a long fortified wall. There used to be buildings in the castle grounds, but now you can apparently do an escape game in the castle. It’s totally something I would have done to if 1) it wasn’t closed when I got there and 2) I had people to do the escape game with. I guess there’s the language thing. I don’t know how far my Italian could get me in an hour.

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Instead, I spent my time walking around the castle grounds. The museums and everything were closed, but the castle grounds were open until much later than I would have expected. It worked out well. I got to explore the castle in the late afternoon, which meant it was relatively quiet. I walked the castle walls and a long stretch of the fortified wall until I hit a point where a couple who had found a quiet hideaway on the wall started glaring at the tourist with a camera interrupting their romantic moment.

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I spent the rest of the night recuperating from the impromptu hike, which was interrupted by a break to get a much-deserved and delicious pizza for dinner.

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The Castle Trifecta

I woke up early the next morning to complete my castle tour of Bellinzona. I grabbed food and made it outside in time for the bus that would take me up to Sasso Carbaro. This castle was the farthest from the city center and sat just outside of the city walls. You can see it throughout the city, but I didn’t quite understand how far the castle actually was until I sat in that bus as it wound up and up the mountain and the rest of the city got increasingly smaller.

Fun fact about the bus situation. While I had impeccable timing to get to the bus that would take me up the mountain, I would have to wait two hours before the next bus would come to bring me back down. On top of that, while the bus did a great job in getting me up the mountain, I still had to go further to actually get to the castle.

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I took a long look up the rocky pathway up to the castle and knew that the castle would not take me two hours, even with the intimidating trips up and down the hill. I then thought of the narrow and windy road I’d have to walk down (and dodge cars) to get to Montebello. Between that and the fact that I could still acutely feel the repercussions of an impromptu hike from the day before, I knew exactly what I needed to do. I snapped my quick photo of the castle and jumped back on the bus. The bus driver thought this was funny. We bonded on the way back down as I found someone who was patient with my bad Italian. He even said I spoke the language very well (take that ye naysayers).

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The bus driver brought me down to Montebello, which was the second castle on my tour of the day. The best thing about exploring an area in its off-season is that you sometimes get things all to yourself, which was the case at Montebello. I’m sure there were probably people working there, but as far as I knew, it was just me and history. Unfortunately, this also meant that the museum was closed, which was fine. I walked around the walls and castle grounds.

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It was also incredibly windy that morning. Much more so than the day before.

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Eventually, other people started trickling in and I wasn’t alone. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world as it never got anywhere remotely near crowded. I figured that the problem that plagued me up in Sasso Carbaro would have also been an issue at Montebello, but I figured out after some people watching that there was an easy path straight to the city center if I followed the castle walls. The trip down was nothing compared to the day before and I was happy to not have to battle cars for space on the road.

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As it was Sunday, the town was also incredibly quiet as I approached. There were few people walking along the streets and it was nowhere near as bustling as it had been during the Saturday market the day before.

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I had planned to leave Bellinzona relatively early so I could make it back to Basel with time to get some stuff done for the day, so I knew I was going to leave relatively early. I still also had to get my stuff from the hotel. Having skipped the full experience at the first castle gave me enough time to make another stop by Castelgrande. I didn’t think the museums would be open and they weren’t.

After some exploration of the castle grounds, I made my way back to the hotel, packed up my stuff and made it out of town. There were ups and downs to the weekend (quite literally), but I’d say it was a fun weekend overall.

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In search of a bridge in Bellinzona

I had a lovely overnight stay in Bellinzona and started writing about it when I realized that the story of my chaotic search for a Tibetan bridge ended up monopolizing the post. I decided it would need its own story.

As I was researching Bellinzona, I read about a Tibetan bridge in the nearby Monte Carasso. I don’t know why I thought that was a good idea for me and that bridge is 270 meters long and 130 meters off the ground. I don’t like heights or bridges. I didn’t even do well with the significantly smaller bridge we did in Chiang Mai where we were wearing helmets and fastened to lines with very sturdy caribiners and equipment.

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Zero. Chill.

Nevertheless, the website said the bridge would be kid friendly and easily accessible, so I figured it couldn’t be too bad. I took off from the city center and realized almost a mile later that I was walking towards the wrong cable car. It was an error that I quickly corrected and found a bus that could take me to the cable car that I need to take.

There weren’t many cable cars that cycle up and down the mountain, so there was a bit of a wait for the cable car. On the upside, they have cute doors to allow the dogs to get in an out of the exit.

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I got off at the village of Curzútt and immediately found out I was operating under a different standard of “easily accessible” when I saw that the hike to the bridge would take an hour. The path didn’t look too bad and some quick calculations estimated that I would have enough daylight to be able to get to the bridge and back down the mountain with some time to spare.

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The first part of the hike wasn’t that bad. The path was flat, I could not complain about the views at all and there was a small stone church along the way. Even with a short stop to walk around said church, it took me a little under fifteen minutes to hit the sign that told me I had 45 minutes until the bridge.

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Things quickly got harder. The flat path became less flat and there was much more of an uphill climb. It was around the time that I had to start relying on the grips we learned during our indoor rock climbing phase to not fall that I realized that it probably was not a good idea to do this hike on my own. The hiking equivalent of SSDGM, if you will.

With that, I turned around and made my way back to the cable car stop.

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Things didn’t bode too well when I got back to the cable car stop and saw a family I saw at the beginning of the hike was still hanging out at the stop grumbling about how long they had been waiting. It was a bit of a wait until a mostly full cable car arrived. There was no space for me or half of the other group and I realized I had a long wait ahead of me with no guarantee that I’d fit into the next cable car. I saw the other half of the group walk down and saw quite a few groups climbing up the mountain, so some weird part of my brain thought it’d be an okay idea to walk down the mountain.

It took an hour and a half and got very steep at times. I became painfully aware of the fact that neither the clothes nor the shoes I wore were appropriate for that type of a hike. I made it down, though, and my legs felt like absolute jelly at the end.

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So that is my story of a search for a bridge that led to an impromptu hike. It took a few days for my legs to recover and I’m sure there are lessons that should have been learned from that adventure. Nevertheless, the hike was pretty and the situation was kind of funny in retrospect.

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. Heed 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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