The Swiss Life: Chienbase in Liestal

Today will be a relatively short blog post because Phantom Planet just got off of their 11 year hiatus and I can’t today. Actually, the real reason is because I didn’t think it would be right to combine this with the larger Fasnacht post. Liestal is a ten minute train ride and while people combine this with the rest of the Basel festivities, it not a part of Fasnacht and is in a different canton. Thus, it gets its own, albeit short, post.

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Chienbäse takes place the Sunday after Ash Wednesday and, therefore, takes place hours before Basel’s Fasnacht kick’s off. The lights along the route go out, while a fiery parade marches through the town of Liestal. Historically, this was a way to celebrate the end of winter and the warming weather. Parade participants march through the town carrying burning wooden brooms (Chienbäsen) while thousands of spectators watch. Every now and then, there are carts in the parade with tall epic flames. The whole experience is quite a sight.

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While we did the early afternoon flight from London to allow us to settle back into Basel relatively early in the day, the fact that we got back early was an added bonus. It meant that we would be able to attend this unique parade. I was a little disheartened when I got recommendations to be in Liestal early evening (~5 pm) as that was around the time our plane would be landing in Basel (assuming no delays). Despite a minor delay, we got to Basel with enough time to check Chris’s mom and aunt into their hotel, spend a few moments back at the flat and then pack up and catch a train to Liestal. We got in just after 7, right around when the parade started.

The Liestal we got to was in full Carnival mode. There were costumes, confetti and drunken people walking through the streets. It was almost like I was back in the Cologne I saw the weekend before. The parade was just starting, so we tried to catch some of it. What was got was the back of a lot of people’s heads and the soft glow of some of the initial cars. In other words, there was nothing much to see.

We used that as an opportunity to re-group and grab some hot dogs, schnitzel and glühwein for dinner before taking our chances with the crowds again. We found a better and slightly less crowded spot. For a while, it was still hard to see anything bit the tops of the flames, so we relied on tall Chris to get us footage of the parade through his phone.

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The good thing about where we were initially situated was that we were shielded from a lot of the ashes. One of the most common recommendations you receive before attending this event is to not wear good clothes as they are bound to be ruined by falling ashes. I think the jacket I wore still smells like I was at a bonfire, but we spent a large part of our parade watching experience hidden in a little alley and missed a lot of the ashes.

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The longer we were there, however, the more people would shuffle out of the crowds. This allowed us to slowly inch our way through the crowd, where we eventually got pretty decent viewing spots.

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Knowing that we had to get back home to get sleep before our 2:30 am wakeup call for Morgenstraich, we eventually fought our way out of the crowd of parade spectators and fought out way onto the crowded trains back to Basel. Seriously, those trains were crazy crowded full of people who probably had the same early morning wakeup call. Of course, we only left after getting some delicious fudge and almonds.

Chienbäse was a great experience despite the constant battles with crowds. It’s essentially a giant town-wide bonfire. Now, they take a lot of precautions to make sure that the town doesn’t set on fire, but it still feels a bit like this event defies the odds. It’s certainly worth seeing if you are able to, but I would impart the same advice that was given to me – don’t wear nice clothes, prepare to smell like bonfire, be there early and be prepared for crowds.

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Crazy Days of Cologne’s Carnival

Today is Mardi Gras, which is one of those days that I’ve always kind of loved despite the fact that I don’t really partake in all of the Mardi Gras festivities. Despite the fact that it’s been Carnival fever over here in Basel and the fact that I knew that the Catholic carnival celebrations are the week before Basel’s Carnival, it somehow came as a surprise to me that the trip that I planned to Cologne this past weekend fell squarely in the height of the city’s famous carnival. I guess it’s somehow fitting in a way. Exactly a year ago, I spent the same weekend in the American capital of Mardi Gras. Granted, that was for a half marathon and not Mardi Gras, but it still checks out.

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Back to Cologne, though. The city has a very long Carnival tradition and, as it turns out, a long Carnival season. It starts with a big celebration on November 11 and culminates with the “Crazy Days” that lead up to Mardi Gras. These are days filled with costumes, parades, events and drinking. A lot of drinking. Doing the trip on my own, there’s only so much of the Carnival activities that I can partake in without it being sad or potentially dangerous, but it was still a fun experience.

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This is Alea having fun.

 

The Crazy Days kick off with Women’s Day on Thursday, but (11 pm trek across the Cologne train station on Friday aside) my first major Carnival event of the weekend were the celebrations at Neumarkt. There were musicians playing, groups performing and dancing and, of course, plenty of the local Kölsch to drink. This was a lot of fun to watch and I would have stayed for longer if I didn’t have a walking tour of the city to meet up with.

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Going into the experience, I knew that people dressed up in costume for Carnival, but I didn’t realize that essentially everyone young and old took part in this experience. As soon as I stepped off of the train on Friday night, I realized that this was the Halloween experience I missed out on last fall. The problem was that I was entirely unprepared. Even the Maleficient hat that I had purchased at Disneyland just the week before would have been sufficient for a low-key costume. I couldn’t miss out on a costume event again, so I had to pull something together quick. Fortunately, the city’s colors are red and white which made it very easy to throw together a quick Waldo costume.

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The other Carnival experiences on Saturday involved a lot of people watching. There were so many costumes. As the day wore on, the crowds grew. Most of the big bars and breweries in the city were also jam-packed, so I didn’t get the classic brewery experience, but I will survive. It somehow never felt overwhelming, though, and while people were clearly very inebriated, it never actually was too bad. Then again, I was back at my hotel by like 10 pm when the night was still young, so I’m sure I missed the height of the celebrations.

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The other big Carnival event I tried to hit on Saturday was the big Ghost Parade, which is part of the Alternative Carnival. The event takes place closer to the university and involves a lot of people dressed up as ghosts and with lights and march in a parade. It was more participatory than I anticipated and I was cold from the rain by then (and a little hungry), so I wandered around a little before heading back to the main part of town.

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While the big parade of Carnival takes place on the Monday, Sunday is also filled with a number of parades through the city center. Leading up to the big parades, there were people gathered in all parts of the city playing drums and/or making music.

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I didn’t experience the height of the Sunday parade until I was getting ready to leave Cologne. After returning from a trip to the sculpture museum and the zoo, I got off at the train station and started heading to my hotel to pick up my bag. Unfortunately, this led to a bit of a panic because the parade route completely looped around my hotel. In Alea panic brain, I briefly considered whether I actually needed the contents of my bag. This was followed by a moment of clarity where I realized from navigating the intense crowds of the Chinese New Year Parade during the SF Treasure Hunt for several years that there’s always a way around the parade route. Well, in this case, it was under the parade route through the subway tunnels.

With my bag in hand, I had some time to sit and enjoy the parade before I had to catch the train.

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Carnival is the type of experience that is better enjoyed with at least one other travel companion. Nevertheless, it was still a fun weekend, if anything to take in the atmosphere and crowds. There was some great people watching and even better costumes. Being in Cologne during the Carnival weekend added a colorful and vibrant element to the weekend that I’m glad I got to experience. I only wish I knew about the costume element a little sooner.

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More on Cologne itself in my next post.

 

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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