The Swiss Life: Basler Fasnacht 2019

Happy Friday, y’all. It’s certainly a good Friday that involved a dinner of Mexican food, a UCI win (this is the one year I’ll follow March Madness), a new album from Jenny Lewis, and I will finally be writing my blog post about Fasnacht.

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In the many months leading up to my move out here to Switzerland, there were many things that I was looking forward to. However, one of the things I was most excited for was Basel’s big Carnival celebration. The centuries old Basler Fasnacht is celebrated a week after most other places have their own carnival celebrations and takes place in the 72 hour period (starting 4 am Monday and ending at 4 am Thursday). The event is interesting in that it’s festive, beautiful, surreal and a little somber all at once. I also saw a different and oftentimes chaotic view of Basel, something you don’t get the other 362 days of the year. In short, it was quite an experience.

Morgenstreich

Fasnacht kicks off at 4 am on Carnival Monday in the center of the Old Town. At exactly 4 am, all of the lights of the city shut off and a parade of cliques with bright, often political lanterns commences with a chorus of drums and flutes throughout the city.

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The cliques are an important part of Fasnacht as they are one of the more formal types of formations that travel around the city. They are dressed in elaborate and often slightly eerie costumes and play the flute throughout the city. They’re a pretty core fixture you see around Basel during Carnival.

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To be out at the Altstadt in time for Morgenstreich, we had to be up around 3. We got to Marktplatz around 3:45 and found a good spot. Things never got too crowded where it was hard to see, but we did move at some point across the square to try to get different views of the lanterns. There was also a pretty good Trump lantern we wanted to get a better view of.

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After about an hour, the parade dispersed a little and the cliques dispersed into processions moving throughout the city. We fought the crowds a little to start making our way towards the bridge to cross back to Klein Basel, but didn’t leave without partaking in another Fasnacht tradition, the burnt flour soup.

Despite the fact that it is ridiculously early, many restaurants are open to sell the soup, some local onion and cheese breads and, of course, 5 am alcohol. We took part in all of those. I have to say that while the concept of burnt flour soup did not sound particularly appetizing, it was really good. It kind of tasted like a thicker French onion soup. Of course, since all of the lights of the Altstadt had to be shut off, we ate in pitch dark in the restaurant.

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Exhausted and full of food and alcohol, we all went back to sleep for a few hours to get back some of the sleep that we lost in the morning activities.

Cortège

Monday and Wednesday afternoons of Fasnacht have a giant parade that goes through the city. The Cliques march through the Cortège but are also joined by the Gugge bands (brass bands) and many, many floats. Based on a last-minute piece of advice, we situated ourselves right in front of the Kunstmuseum for the Monday afternoon Cortège. Not only was this area never particularly crowded of people, but it allowed us to follow two different parade routes.

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The people on the floats hand out (and throw) a number of things into the crowd. This includes fruit (mostly oranges), vegetables, candy, toys and assorted other items (including tissues for whatever reason). Children will follow the floats with bags to collect all the candy. Of course, they also will throw confetti at the spectators. There is confetti everywhere during Fasnacht and I mean everywhere. Now, you’re supposedly less likely to get confetti’ed if you’re wearing one of the Blaggede (Fasnacht pins sold in the months leading up to Fasnacht for fundraising). Mine did not help me. I got pelted with confetti on multiple occasions.

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The craziest thing about the parade on Monday was the weather. After weeks of what felt like an early spring, it suddenly got cold again. Between the time that we passed out from the Morgenstreich and when we woke up, it started pouring rain only for the weather to clear up to beautiful blue (albeit a little cloudy) skies in time for the parade. We stayed at the parade for about an hour and a half, during everything was bright and absolutely dry. It started pouring, hailing and even very briefly snowing almost immediately after we returned to the flat. It’s almost as if the weather was on our side.

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Unfortunately, while we stayed for quite some time at Monday’s parade, none of us went out for the parades on Wednesday. Chris took his mom and aunt to Freiburg on Wednesday. Actually, because the tram line to the Swiss train station was closed for the parades, the decision to go to Freiburg on Wednesday was intentional and a little strategic since they could just hop on the train from the German station. I was at work and while I am told that we get a pretty nice view of the parades from the office, I did not have time to watch them.

Lantern Exhibition 

Tuesday is full of many activities, including a children’s parade during the day. We missed the children’s parade, but did get to see two of the activities.

We started up in the Münsterplatz to see all of the lanterns from the previous morning on display. The area was crowded and there was an additional element of the processions of cliques and bands winding their way through the crowds that made it all the more chaotic. The lanterns were quite amazing, though, and it was nice to be able to look at them up close. Many were political, although many of them reflected very local politics and therefore went over my head.

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The Gugge Concerts

In addition to the lantern display, Tuesday evening is dedicated to the Gugge bands. These bands are not allowed to perform during the Morgenstreich, so the Tuesday allows these bands to showcase their performances. The Gugge bands are also a little more playful, often playing deliberately a little off-key.

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The big performances are in the main squares. We watched them for a while in a very packed Marktplatz, where they were playing playful covers of the Offspring and Lady Gaga. This was kind of a blast to watch while more cliques and Gugge bands wound their way in a very crowded Marktplatz.

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Everything Else

Basel is pretty chaotic during Fasnacht. While there is some amount of coordination during the parades, the formations will typically wind around their way around the city. The Swiss restaurants are absolutely packed with revelers and there are cellars with comedy shows during the events. Those are in Swiss German, so we did not attend them, but we did walk around at night a bit to take in the chaos of city.

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And with that, Fasnacht ends as does what ended up being my 2019 Carnival coverage. The Basler Fasnacht was unique and very special and I’m glad I was able to take it all in this year. It certainly lived up to the hype.

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The Swiss Life: Eight Months and a Very California February

I have just returned to Basel from a weekend in Carnival-crazed Cologne. While there’s more to come on that adventure, there has certainly been carnival fever in the air the last month. Decorations have shown up in restaurants and store fronts, people are selling the carnival badges (Blaggede) everywhere, the cliques are practicing their instruments and confetti has started to show up on the streets. As we start inching closer to Basel’s Carnival (it’s a week later than the Catholic version), I imagine the fever will go full-force. It’s a festive time of year to say the least.

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February was an absolute whirlwind of a month. Between starting the month with that horrible cold and the many guests and visitors who appeared and disappeared throughout February, the month went by in a flash. All the visitors meant that there has been a lot of eating, or at least what feels like more than usual. Not that I can complain about that though.

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After a cold and snowy January, things have also warmed up pretty significantly over the past few weeks. I mean, things are all relative. While it hasn’t been warm warm, I have to say that February felt like a California winter. It’s been a few weeks of clear and beautiful skies. You’d almost think it’s spring already. We’ll see if this weather holds up. Given that it’s been stormy in California, I’m afraid that Chris will be bringing the cold weather back with him next week. We’ll see.

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I’m hoping the good weather keeps in some capacity because I’m supposed to be officially in half marathon training mode again. It was supposed to start last week but a bad kettle bell swing has sidelined me for the week. For now, we’ll just have to say that the 20+ miles I’ve walked over the past two days is a good stand in for a Sunday long run.

So, that’s about it. It’s been a long day, which means you get a short post. Look forward to more stories of Carnival soon.

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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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The Swiss Life: A Very Basel Christmas

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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.

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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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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.