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.
Continue reading SWIMMING IN THE RHINE
I thought the mountains would be cold. That even in summer, the sun would shine across the snow drifts, and the people would be wearing puffy jackets and long trousers throughout the season. I was right – sort of. Yes, the actual tops of the mountains are a bit chill. But in the valleys the sun shines at full strength and outdoor activities are de rigeur.
Continue reading HORSING AROUND IN PONTRESINA
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.
Continue reading SWINGING WITH THE SWISS
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.
It isn’t the speed, but the sound which is most surprising. The slapping, whirring, whoosing sound that dominates the air as they fly past you, like brightly coloured insects with odd giant feet and long stick-like arms digging into and pushing away from the snow.
The Engadin Skimarathon is an annual cross-country ski race held between Maloja and S-chanf in the Upper Engadin in early March. It is one of the biggest cross-country skiing events in the world and attracts well over 10,000 participants every year, from professionals to first-timers.
Continue reading ENGADIN SKI MARATHON 2015
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.
Continue reading FASNACHT
We are surrounded by fur and the thundering of hooves. It must be St Moritz Polo on Ice. The only polo event in the world to take place on a frozen lake, the game pits two teams of world class players against one another in a three-day tournament. It was cold, my feet basically froze to the lake, but we saw some excellent polo action (and some spectacular fur outfits). This year’s champions were Cartier, which was a pretty obvious outcome from a few minutes into the first game of the final.
I’ve seen polo on grass and it’s fun, but nothing really beats the glamour and surreality of watching it across a frozen lake, the Swiss Alps in the background, a glass of champagne in one (numb) hand and a hot chocolate in the other.
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.
Continue reading MARCH OF THE PENGUINS – BASEL EDITION