Tag Archives: Basel

Europe 2015 Diary Entry IX – Switzerland

One Two years later, I’m finally finding the time to document my memories of our trip. I’m calling them diary entries, because they’re mostly thought dumps to recall as many details as possible – mostly for memory sake. I’m already forgetting little details about our trip, which is sad as it was really a once in a lifetime experience that I want to remember for the rest of my life. So these posts will be long and full of pictures. Consider yourself warned. 🙂

After hopping around from city to city for a few months, I started to feel unsettled and found myself wanting to stay put for a while to catch my breath. Having Granichen as our “home base” was perfect, because it gave me a sense of stability for the majority of the time we spent in Europe.

I already wrote about our time in Granichen, so I’ll talk about a few of the other Swiss cities (Locarno, Basel, Olten, Lenzburg) that we managed to visit.

Here’s a handy map of Switzerland. Thank you, internet (source).

Locarno
This is one of the prettiest Swiss cities I’ve been to, and it was my most memorable day trip. We left Granichen late one morning and arrived in Locarno a few hours later. The train ride itself is stunning, and we were able to explore Locarno under clear, sunny weather.

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In our typical travel style, we packed lunches to eat on the train and saved our money to spend on coffee and pastries instead.

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Eating sandwiches with homemade bread (or fresh bread from our local Swiss-German bakery) while riding trains to different places is one of my happiest memories.

Locarno is on the Italian side of Switzerland, so everybody says Ciao! instead of Grütze! and the Italian influence is everywhere. It’s amazing.

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Despite their good looks, swans never hesitate to hiss at you if you get too close to them.
Not long after we took this photo, we went to a nearby shop and bought a Toblerone. It seemed fitting.

Like Lucerne (another stunning city that we’ve visited in the past), Locarno is incredibly gorgeous and scenic. It’s like stepping into a postcard. As pretty as it is, I’m not exactly sure what more you can do there other than gawk at the pretty mountains and shop if you have excess amounts of money to spend.

We sat on a bench and stared at the mountains in the background for what felt like hours. In reality, it was probably more like 30 minutes and then we were done. I couldn’t see myself coming back here to stay for more than a day unless I had a local showing me around, or a specific event to attend (like a race, maybe?).

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Basel
To keep our solo long runs interesting, Mike and I would often choose a nearby city to run and finish our long runs at. Once we had both finished (often Mike would be done long before me), we’d meet at a cafe to enjoy a post-run coffee and pastry before taking the train home. It was the perfect way to knock out a long run without getting bored since Granichen itself is really small, and there are only so many kms you can cover before you start running in circles.

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Basel

One Sunday, we each spent 35km slowly making our way to Basel. The run itself was interesting as I got to run through a lot of very rural areas of Switzerland that I would have never seen. We also managed to run an errand by purchasing Eurail passes for our upcoming trip to Germany (not all train stations sell Eurail passes and unfortunately, you must buy them in person if you want to use them right away and can’t wait for them to be mailed).

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Scenes from a long run.

We also went there once to check out a Fasnacht winter carnival. I wrote more about it in this post, but it was really interesting to witness something that the entire city shuts down for (even schools are closed so children can attend) and enjoy. I can’t think of anything in Canada, not even Canada Day, that results in this type of attendance.

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Even on a grey, rainy day, people came out for the festival.

Olten
I can’t remember why we went to Olten. Maybe because it was one of the closest cities to visit by train? The city had its usual pretty views, but we struggled to find things to do. Most of the cafes we visited didn’t have wifi which was a problem for Mike who was still working remotely. And – as usual, everything was pricey. At one cafe we went to, 2 cappuccinos and 2 waters set us back 20CHF (~$26CAD).

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Apart from a cupcake and a coffee, we didn’t get much accomplished here. We couldn’t even find one cafe that had wifi for us to use.

Lenzburg
This was a REALLY fun and random city that we ran to as part of a long run. When we were planning that particular long run, our friend Maja drew us an old school map to give us an idea of where to go.

A basic map of our route. It’s really all that we needed since the majority of it was around the lake.

We incorporated a run around Lake Hallwilersee which itself is a 20km loop that included running around a very old castle (which was used for the first time in 1036…!!!).

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Pretty, old castle.

That particular long run also involved running through various types of terrain (and weather; it rained on and off), a forest, and up a very rude hill during the last 2km. As always, we set our meeting point at a cafe in Lenzburg – a very old, historic city that I would have loved to explore but not much is open on Sundays in Switzerland. I seriously love how much history is buried all over Europe. Maja was kind enough to meet us at the cafe and drive us home after a quick post-run cappuccino. When we got back to her place, she made us an amazing Swiss version of French toast for brunch that we still eat on a regular basis today. It was SO GOOD!

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Lenzburg, where we met a friend for a coffee after finishing a very long, challenging and hilly long run.

Bottom line
I absolutely loved exploring and running through Switzerland. I know it’s unrealistic to spend hours running to a different city and commuting back home, so I didn’t allow myself to take any run for granted. Every Sunday was a blank slate to create our own adventure and I am so grateful that my body stayed strong enough to carry me through all of those amazing, scenic long runs.

I say this all the time, but I would go back and live there in a heartbeat.

Fasnacht in Basel, Switzerland

I have this theory that the Swiss people are too busy enjoying life and being outdoors than to be the tortured artists that North America is well known for. After all, it’s hard to write sad music, poetry, or create emotional artwork if you’re never standing still or don’t have any sad experiences to draw from. It all started when I asked Mike to name a few famous bands or musicians from Switzerland since he’s my music encyclopaedia. When we both kept drawing blanks (I know this doesn’t mean they don’t exist), I started thinking whenever I’ve been my most creative is when I’m “recovering” from something else. The height of my short-lived painting career all came about when I was trying to force myself to get over a terrible break up. When I was in elementary school, I had very few friends to play with at recess or after school, so I spent all of my spare time reading books and writing short stories or poetry… that were kind of depressing. My English teachers lapped it up and told my parents I was destined to be some kind of literary genius (I wasn’t and my poor parents for getting their hopes up).

In reality, I was just sitting around and making the best of my time. I have yet to meet an unhappy Swiss person who isn’t active or involved in various sports or activities. Granted, I don’t know too many of them so I am totally generalizing. But, with Switzerland’s year-round weather as mild as they have (compared to our Canadian winters) and stunning scenery at everyone’s doorstep, I wouldn’t really be sitting around listening to sappy love songs and painting my frustration away, either. I’d be running, skiing, cycling, and hiking.

Every European that we meet on our trip always asks us why we chose to come here over the winter. Like every other country in the world, Europe really comes to life in the summer.  We’re well aware of this and were expecting many grey days, but also less tourists overall which was a tradeoff we were willing to make. What we weren’t expecting to see, was how positive the Swiss are even among damp, cold, and grey days that can stretch on for months. We got to see this firsthand when we went to Fasnacht winter carnival in Basel. There’s a brief description of the carnival on the MySwitzerland website. From what I understand, the celebration starts at 4:00am on Monday (after Ash Wednesday) and continues for three days, until 4:00am on Thursday. We arrived on a Tuesday afternoon, when many of the participants were resting and getting ready to come back out, so it was quiet at first. We were wondering if we had missed something…

And then, we heard the music before we saw the people. We sat at a cafe while we watched floats and marching bands walk all throughout the city centre. They seemed to be coming and going in every direction.

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At first, Mike and I were not very brave and tried to watch the festivities from inside a cafe. Then we realized that we were completely missing out on the atmosphere and joined the crowd outside.
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Sharp.
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Justice.

Mike put up a video where you can hear the type of music they were playing here. There was a sense of history, authenticity, and pride. Most of the parades in Toronto are heavily sponsored and each float ends up looking like a giant walking advertisement for whatever company is sponsoring it. Honestly, I kind of hate parades – at least I thought I did, until I went to this one. At Fasnacht, I couldn’t exactly figure out what the theme was, but it was clear that the entire city was on board with it. Adults, teenagers, and even little children were all out and most were dressed up. People on floats were throwing candy, fruit, and flowers to people standing on the street.

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Whenever we wandered into alleyways to get around crowds, we’d see a few participants dressed up and playing bits and pieces of the same kind of melodic music. Sometimes it was just two or three people playing with whatever instrument they had, even if no one was watching or following them. It was truly incredible to see and it really brought a sense of happiness and excitement to the otherwise gross and grey day. I think it’s a perfect time of the year to have a carnival. 🙂

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People were still waking up from having partied since 4am the previous night. The later it got, the more crowded it became.
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Dressed up and waiting for their cue to start playing music and marching.

People were celebrating, laughing, and drinking on the streets – but nobody was violent or causing any embarrassing scenes (hi, every other parade that I’ve ever been to in North America). I’m not saying it doesn’t get rowdy – we didn’t stay around for the whole festival, but it just seemed to be centered around the city and its participants, rather than an excuse to get extremely drunk. Eventually, Mike and I got hungry after wandering around for a while and decided a beer and pretzel on the street was a very good idea.

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As long as I’ve got a pretzel in my hand, I’m in my happy place.

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I don’t get a sense that there are too many food-related traditions that go hand in hand with the carnival. Most of what was being served were hot dogs, pretzels (you’d better believe we got one!) and beer. The one thing we did notice, however, was a quiche looking tart thing every single bakery seemed to be selling. We picked up a piece to share and ate it on the train ride back which was the best decision ever. It may have spoiled our dinner a little, but it was worth it.

Basler-Kaeswaie-Cheese-filled-Tart-Recipe-Swiss-Style-Carnival-NM-Recipes
(source)

If I was at home right now, I’d be scrambling to recreate the recipe immediately. Alas, I’ll just have to file away this tart as one of the best savoury things I’ve ever eaten and re-visit Basel some day to have another. I did a little googling and this seems to be a pretty decent recipe in case you’re interested in trying to make this tart yourself.

If you find yourself in Switzerland during the winter months, I highly recommend checking out Basel’s Fasnacht festival. Don’t forget to get a slice of cheese tart.

alison

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