I heard this the other day and I thought it was hilarious. I think the term exists in English, but I’ve never heard it used in everyday speech – usually it’s referred to in specific political discourse.
It’s been hot this summer. Like, really hot. The kind of hot that you hope for on holiday, but which just makes everyday city life unbearable. Luckily, Basel has the solution (and this time it’s not ice cream).
As the mercury rises, Baselers sink. Into the cool waters of the Rhine. Sunny summer days see the river filled with bright, laughing dots as people gently float downstream.
Sometimes people say something and I just don’t understand. I technically know what the words mean, but they don’t make any sense.
How do you go hiking when you don’t really like hiking? I have become a little more outdoorsy since coming to Switzerland, but I’m not really a Gortex-clad, hiking-wunderkind just yet. (Or maybe not ever. Probably not ever). I’m still mostly bribed by cheese, and very definitely open to cheating.
Wasserfallen is perfect for hiking-lite because you get to go up in the cable car and come down on giant scooters. That’s right, scooters! For grown-ups!
I have been visiting / living in Basel for a while now, and although there is still a lot left undiscovered, I have definitely found a few favourite places. The list is far from exhaustive, but it’s tried and tested. So, without further ado, here are my ideas for what to see, eat and do in this border city…
(also available as a downloadable PDF here)
As the temperature gauge tickles the mid-thirties there’s only one thing to do in the city: ice cream. The summer has been hot and languid this year, heat bouncing off the buildings and stifling the breeze. Sure, there’s the Rhine to jump into and float along, but it’s not exactly an office-friendly quick fix to the sweltering conditions. So, ice cream.
Yesterday was a holiday. There were so many things we could do. We thought about going to Paris for the day, or maybe somewhere in Germany. Maybe stay closer to home and visit Schaffhausen, with its pretty old town and iconic Rhine Falls…
What we actually did, was go and watch a bunch of grown men hold onto one another’s shorts and try to flip each other like tortoises. Welcome to Schwingen, a national sport of Switzerland. I’m a bit unclear on the rules, but the idea seems to be to get your opponent on their back, with both shoulders on the floor, by twisting, pushing, wrestling, hugging or sitting on them. Each competitor wears a pair of breeches with a belt to help the other grip onto them and they employ all sorts of flips and trips to try to win.
It’s Bärlauch, or wild garlic, season and I am beyond excited. You can pick it up in the supermarkets, but it’s much more fun to don the wellies and head out into the woods to pick your own. Much like in the UK, the season runs from March to May, with the middle period yielding the best leaves.
You have to be careful that it’s wild garlic you are picking and not the poisonous and similar-looking Lily of the Valley, but if you can identify it, you can have a foragers field day. It grows everywhere here. We drove five minutes from Basel and were greeted by green carpets of the stuff. Restaurants pretty much serve nothing else at the moment, and everyone has a recipe or two they can recommend. It doesn’t keep that long, so follow the foragers rule of only taking what you need, give it a good wash and whip it up into a quick pesto (with parsley and parmesan), or fry it and serve it with olive oil over pasta.
You begin to notice it in summer. The sweet trills of a piccolo float through steep cobbled streets, drifting from an upper storey window and settling on the warm breeze. From another open pane, a different dancing tune begins, winding its way in and out of the initial Narnian notes pervading the summer air.
As summer fades into autumn and winter, groups of people start to meet in mysterious cellars across the city. Up to their elbows in glue, newspaper, paint and plaster, they design and create their costumes. 100 masks left to make; 80; 30; five… A year of preparation and planning for three days in Spring.
Basel does Fasnacht like nowhere else in Switzerland.
Weirdly, I have spent quite a lot of time in the company of penguins – swimming with them in the Galapagos, hiking with them in Antarctica, and now taking a morning stroll with them in Basel.
No matter how much time you spend with these birds, they are never boring. They are the personalities of the ornithological world. Slightly off-balance, slightly funnily-shaped, noisy and belligerent – they are the best-dressed, worst-mannered diners at the birds’ dinner party. But they are undeniably hilarious. I could, and have, watched them for hours. And it turns out that I didn’t have to travel to the ends of the Earth to do so.