FASNACHT

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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.

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SNOWLO

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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.

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MARCH OF THE PENGUINS – BASEL EDITION

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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.

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