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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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 Swiss Birthday

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

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

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

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

Until then, take care.

The Swiss Life: Five Months and Thanksgiving Abroad

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

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

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

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

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

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The Swiss Life – What I Miss at Four Months

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Swiss Life: Reflecting on 3 Months

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

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

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

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

Wandering Basel: Japanese Festival

I spent this weekend in Basel. Well, I did a day trip to Solothurn on Saturday, but Sunday I stayed around Basel mostly. The timing worked out well as there was a Japanese festival in nearby Münchenstein today. They had performances, workshops, and a karate workshop, as well as shops and (most importantly) food. You got free admission to the event of you dressed up (they were accepting kimonos and cosplay). No, I did not throw something together.

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I actually initially planned on going in the afternoon after my long run, but somehow didn’t feel like going for a two hour run when I woke up. Unfortunately, by the time I got to the festival, I missed a lot of the big demonstrations. I think I just missed the karate demonstration. I did have a lot of Japanese food, which I now realize that I haven’t had since I got here. There were a lot of options, but I ended up getting some yakisoba and karaage. Finished everything up with some matcha.

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It was a good way to spend the early part of the afternoon, but I couldn’t linger around for the afternoon demonstrations and performances. I did ultimately have to drag myself out on the aforementioned run and do some German practice for tomorrow’s class. The run ended up not being so bad even if it was hot. I ran to a big park that was recommended to me, so a lot of it was shaded.

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Not too bad for a somewhat lazy Sunday.