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).


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.


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.



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.

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.


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.




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.

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.


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).


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.


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


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.


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.



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.


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.

thailand no chill

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.


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.



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.



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.



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.



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 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.


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.

Reflecting on 2018

Happy New Year! Well, we have a few hours left to wrap up the new year and I felt like this year’s blog posts would not be rounded out without some sort of year end post. The past week here in the US has been filled with a lot of time with family, friends, a cold, and this guy…


It’s a good way to wrap up what has turned out to be quite an incredible year.

I’m not even sure where I can start on a year like this. Before living in Switzerland was even a thought, it was supposed to be a year of big travel because I had just gotten Companion Pass and was going to go anywhere Southwest could take me. Bad timing for a year with Companion Pass, but I think we got our value out of it.

There were the races. I added two more states and one international race to my very small list of accomplished half marathons. I even got to pretend I was a Goonie in Astoria.


Even though my Earthquakes had a famously bad season this year, we got a lot of soccer in this year. From the Earthquake games to the World Cup and games in Seoul, Amsterdam, etc. (?), it’s been a fun soccer year. There’s more to look forward to next year, including a handful of soccer games already lined up. Hopefully the Quakes do better too.



There was a lot of food. A lot of good food. No year that involved food in Gwangjang Market, beignets in NOLA and so many orders of raclette can be a bad food year.





I also made animal friends all over the world. Bruce promises that he isn’t jealous.




Of course, I ended the year with a tour of Christmas markets around various cities, where I had so much mulled wine, food and drinks. It seems like a distant memory now, but was a fun way to see different cities.



OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was a lot of family time, of course, including Mia’s big wedding.



And because this picture never gets old, Chris and I got to live out our own version of La La Land at the Korean Folk Village.


It turned out that 2018 was a good year in many ways. It’s been a year full of surprises and a lot of new experiences and adventures. Here’s to an incredible 2019.


The Swiss Life: A Very Basel Christmas


Merry (almost) Christmas everyone! As I’ve spent the majority of the holiday 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.


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

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.


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.



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).


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


A Day Trip to Freiburg


I kept it relatively local last weekend after I decided to cancel the planned weekend in Nuremberg. It was a knee jerk reaction to the stories about the train strike that happened earlier in the week (although I was later assured that I would not have had to worry on the weekend). It’s fine, though. There was an important meeting on Monday that I didn’t want to come anywhere remotely close to missing, so it worked out in the end.

It also gave me a chance to finally explore Freiburg a little, which I had not yet visited despite how close it is. It was a quick but fun trip and I certainly didn’t want to spoil the tour I’m getting of the city next month. The train ride from Basel to Freiburg is pretty short, clocking in at just around an hour (there are fast trains but I was cheap). When I got to town, I was completely inundated with the feel of a university town. There were people tabling. It brought me back to my hippy UCI days.

I started at the big farmers market in the Münsterplatz. It was lunchtime, so I fell in with my aforementioned habit and lined up at a food stall where they were selling some wurst that smelled delicious. Also, the Historic Merchants’ Hall looks like the Rathaus in Basel!



I walked walked around the farmers market aimlessly for a while before going inside the cathedral.


Now, I didn’t mean to do this, but I ended up going from one market to another and quickly found myself at the Freiburg Christmas market. The Christmas market takes quite a few blocks of the city and, most important, is the first time in my 2018 Christmas tour that I have encounted rosé glühwein. It was an achievement of pure basic status and I’m beginning to think that I’m not ironically basic, but actually basic.



After some window shopping and actual shopping, I also knocked out chimney cake from my Christmas market to-do list. It was pretty amazing.

From the Christmas market, I continued my explorations of the old town and saw some of the city’s canals along the way.


My next destination was actually Schlossberg Hill and it took quite a bit of walking in one direction before I realized that I was going in the absolute wrong direction. After re-directing myself, I found the hill and made the climb up the hill. It was sweaty, and not pretty, but as you can tell from the photos, the view was worth it. I may taken a long contemplation break to think about what I had done, but at least I felt like I worked off a small part of that chimney cake, right?


I made my way down and was going to stop by one of the city’s big breweries, but ultimately decided against it (mostly because it was crowded). I did run into more canals and even met Freiburg’s famous crocodile along the way.


Having bypassed the brewery, I did realize I was a little cold, so I ended up warming up at a cafe for a while with some hot chocolate.


The cafe actually took more time than I expected, so I had to make my way back to the train station for my train back to Basel. It was starting to get darker around the time, but I did catch some good lighting on the way out.


So, there we go, it was a quick but fun tour around Freiburg, which is a very charming and cute city. I’ll actually be back there next month for soccer and have been promised a tour of the city, but I also had fun exploring on my own. This was a somewhat quick post, but I wanted to get this one in and hopefully queue up one more in between the long list of things I need to do before I fly back to the US tomorrow. At least I have Elvis Costello to keep me company through all this, right? While packing…not the flight. That’d be weird.


Christmas Market Hopping in Vienna

Hello. It’s been a while, due in part to laziness. I promised a post on Christmas market hopping in Vienna, so we’re going to go back to Vienna.


Vienna is one of the big Christmas cities and it’s hard not to see why. Christmas is everywhere. There are markets throughout the city, each with their own personality and style. Somehow in my short stay, I managed to get to seven of them. To be fair, quite a few of them are very close to each other and I accidentally stumbled upon a number of the other ones.

The hotel I was staying at for the weekend gave out one pager guides to the Vienna Christmas markets with a list of the major markets with hashtags (I know) to give a feel of what each of the markets were like. They were marked on the other side of the paper to give us a sense of where to find the markets. It was a surprisingly good guide to the Viennese Christmas celebrations and ended up being a valuable resoruce for the weekend.

The first of the markets was the Christmas market at Stephanplatz, right outside of the cathedral. It actually wasn’t on the list of the ones I wanted to see based on the aforementioned guide, but I ended up there because my walking tour ended near the cathedral. It was lunch time, so there were crowds around the few food stands at the market. I did a walk around it, but didn’t spend too much time there.


The next stop was the market at Michaelerplatz. This was another one that I didn’t intentionally set out to visit, but just happened upon. This market is a relatively small one right outside of the palace. There are some small shops and a few food stands, but still pretty small. It wasn’t too crowded, though, and I ended up grabbing mulled wine to wait for my tour at the Spanish Riding School to start.


The main market is the one outside of town hall. I actually was going to intentionally skip this one all together as multiple people had said that it was over-crowded and touristy. I wanted to see town hall, though, and it was near some of the markets that I did want to see, so I went anyway. This market is quite the experience and while it was probably the most crowded of the markets I visited this year, it was quite a sight to see. I don’t have a picture of it, but the skating course was especially cool.



The stalls sold your typical Christmas market goods, but there were so many of them. The crowds were overwhelming in the main parts of the market, but there were less crowded off-shoots, where you could actually take a break from the craziness of the rest of the market and catch your breath. Or, in my case, you can take photos of cool things and get some absolutely delicious mulled mead.



By this time, I had also made the decision that going to Budapest again without Chris would somehow be depressing and nixed the Budapest market plans. This meant that I could finally get the langos that I had been holding out for. In my case, I had a langos hot dog. It was delicious.


The next stop on the itinerary was nearby at Maria-Theresien Platz. While it was still bustling, this one was not quite as crowded as the one I had just come from. I didn’t get and food or drink there having just had both at the previous one, but I did end up making some purchases at some of the stalls. This one was actually one of my favorites of the ones I visited, having a good variety of food, drinks, and shopping but not overwhelming like the one in front of town hall.



Christmas @MQ (Museum Quarter) was another market that I happened upon on my way from Maria-Theresien Platz to Spittelberg. I only walked through this one to get from point A to B, but it was a very interesting change of scene from the traditional market at Maria-Theresien Platz to the very hip and modern scene at MQ.



The market at Spittelberg was on my list as it was described as a #hiddengem and my tour guide had recommended it earlier in the day. It was a pain to find. I guess, let me rephrase that. The map was pretty clear about where it was, but I could not find it for the life of me after circling around that neighborhood for far too long. I eventually found it and was happy I didn’t give up. I was sad that I was pretty full by then, because the food selection was great. There were arepas, frites, burgers and some fried thing that I couldn’t identify but still looked kind of good. Instead, I grabbed a schaumbecher and walked through the market, where there were also a number of craft booths and boutiques. Had I not gone to the brewery for lunch that Sunday, I probably would have gone back to this market for lunch.



Finally, I ended the Christmas tour of Vienna at the Advent market of Karlsplatz, which was both very children friendly (there were animals!) and what I would imagine an Etsy-sponsored market would look like. I was worried about time before my flight, so I didn’t stick around too long, but did browse the many many crafts, some of which were way too big for me to even consider bringing back to Switzerland with me.



So, there we have it. Two days and seven of Vienna’s markets. The crazy thing is that there are a quite a few additional ones that I was unable to get to. I’ll survive, though. I think I got my fill of Christmas that weekend.