Zermatters

Have you ever skied off a trail because the view was so stunning? In my case, I’m thankful there are no trees at 10,000 feet in Switzerland because I likely would have run into one while staring at the Matterhorn. Despite the number of times I’d been to Switzerland, I’d somehow never visited Zermatt. My cousin from Thun and I took the train after work on a Friday, switching three times until we arrived at the dead end of a valley: Zermatt.

Zermatt is unique in that it doesn’t allow any cars, instead small electric taxi-buses silently roam the narrow streets and horse drawn carriages parade by wary pedestrians. Although we arrived late at night, the town was still bustling with people and the bars were open and lively. How different from most Swiss towns. As we walked through town, I could see cliffs on either side of the town, but the tops faded into the black of the night and there was no sign of the Matterhorn.  That changed in the morning when I looked out from the breakfast table to a clear view of Matterhorn as it turned from grey to pink in the rising sun.

In full transparency, I spent as much time skiing as I did photography the Matterhorn at different angles. Everywhere you went on the slopes there was a clear view of the mountain—sticking up like thumb among the others. The day was clear and sunny, so we had unimpeded views of the mountains for the full day of skiing. Lunch was Milano pizza at the top of the Rothorn and après ski was a glass of white wine before the final ski run down into town.

After the day in Zermatt, I enjoyed a raclette dinner in Thun with my cousins and fell asleep dreaming of Toblerone. The next day was an adventure into Bern, a town that despite the rain can be enjoyed thanks to the medieval overhangs lining the streets. We hiked over 200+ steps to the top of the tallest church spire in Switzerland in the Bern Cathedral (Bern Minster), the winding stairs and peepholes were enough to make even a person not afraid of heights second guess their decision. The view from the top was worth it though, and the journey back down included secret rooms and views of the centuries old church bells. After some hot chocolate and a mandelgipfel (almond croissant), I was back on the short train ride home to Basel.

me mt.jpg
wine.jpg

I (Still) Heart Gstaad

My first time skiing the Swiss alps can only be described as life changing. Life changing, because I’m not sure how I’m going to go back to skiing the icy mole hills known as the East Coast. After a week and half in the US, I boarded my flight back to Basel and took a train directly to the heart of the Bernese Oberland: Gstaad. Every time I visit Gstaad I’m struck by how beautiful it is. Tucked away in the Bernese Alps, it is somehow luxurious while having the essence of being stuck in time. When I arrived, the holiday crowds were just receding from the resort town and things were quieting on the slopes. There wasn’t much snow in the valley and green grass surrounded most of the chalets, but higher up on hill you could see the white of skiable snow.

I only had three days before work started up again, but I took the opportunity to visit family and experience European skiing. I purchased a three-day lift ticket for $200 (one day at Vail anyone?) and suddenly had access to over 52 lifts and 150+ miles of slopes. I’ve included a map in case you don’t believe me. Despite the lack of snow in the valley, the mountains had good conditions and decent weather while I was there.

My first day out, my cousin and I started in Schönreid and skied the Horneggli, Hornberg and Saanerslochgrat. The weather was cloudy so the views were minimal, but the clouds meant fresh snow so we weren’t complaining. The second day we went across town to the Eggli, skiing from Gstaad to Saanen to Rougemont. My favorite run of the day was from the peak of La Videmanette to the town of Rougemont, the views were incredible above the clouds and no one was skiing around us. Its also fun to ski from German to French, by that I mean crossing the invisible boundary between the French speaking and German speaking regions of Switzerland.

My evenings were filled with visiting family that was in town and fighting jet lag. I picked up some local cheese from the Molkerei for the trip home, vacuum packed to ensure it would make it through US customs, and a few new I heart Gstaad stickers for my collection. Oh did I mention Gstaad has cheese vending machines? As if the place could get any better…

cow.JPG
view.JPG
gstaad.jpg

Paella, Picasso and Parks

A flight from Basel to Barcelona takes just over an hour, and the cost is generally under $100. With those kinds of figures, how could I not find myself in the beautiful city? Barcelona was always on my list of places to visit, although I’d been to Spain before I’d never been in the Catalonia region. Leaving late after work on Friday and flying back to Basel on Sunday afternoon didn’t leave me a whole lot of time to explore, but I think I did a good job overall of balancing my itinerary and visintg the places highest on my list.

Gothic Quarter: I started early on Saturday morning with a 2 ½ hour free walking tour of Barcelona’s Gothic quarter. We stopped at all the major churches, key buildings and ended at the ‘World Begins with Every Kiss’ tile wall. I’m always a fan of walking tours, especially if they are free, because they give you the opportunity to see the sites from a unique perspective.

Picasso Museum: This museum proved I knew nothing about Picasso. After following his artistic journey from age 13 on, I appreciated his artwork more and the progression of his career. After the audio tour through the galleries, I still don’t understand his style of art, but I definitely appreciate it more. If you’re interested, check out Picasso’s Las Meninas series.

Born: In trying to locate the Picasso museum I wandered through the neighborhood known as Born—a trendy, expensive, beautiful maze of streets and shops. Wandering these streets is a true joy as the alleyways lead one into another and turning a corner always reveals another beautiful street.

Park Güell:  An early morning walking tour of Park Güell also proved to be a comedy show I didn’t know I signed up for. Our guide struck the perfect chord of history and humor in his detailed explanation of all things Park Güell and Gaudi. Much of the ‘market place’ and tiled seating area was under construction for safety and drainage reasons, but still the tiling and view was outstanding.

Sagrada Familia: There are a number of things I can count that took my breath away, in a good way, and entering the Sagrada Familia is one of them. From the outside, the unfinished building is intricate and overwhelming with a number of spires and sculptures adorning the massive structure. As soon as you step into the interior, you are bathed in the most beautiful colored light filtering through the outstandingly high windows.

Food: A core part of the Spain experience is enjoying, nay savoring, food. For lunch on my first day I walked to Carrer de Blai, a street renowned for its pintxos restaurants. I pintxo hopped, yes that’s a thing, from one restaurant to the next sampling the various tasty combinations and cava. For dinner I headed to Tapas 24, a place that I knew would allow me to sample their menu even thought I was eating alone. That’s the tough thing about traveling solo in Spain, the meals are made to be enjoyed with a group socially, so I had to do some research on the best places to be a solo diner. Lunch the next day was big, I headed back to the Gothic Quarter where I enjoyed a chorizo appetizer and ordered (read: finished) an order of Paella.

By the time I boarded my flight back to Basel I was exhausted. I’d walked over 25 miles and seen the highlights of the city. The next time I visit, I’m bringing someone with me willing and ready to order one of everything off a tapas menu.

IMG_0498 (1).jpg
IMG_0525.JPG
IMG_0532 (1).JPG
IMG_0549 (1).JPG
IMG_0618.JPG

FC Basel has Spirit

 If I only did one thing in Basel, my aunt and uncle said, it had to be attending an FC Basel game. FCB is the local canton soccer (futbol) team and for years was one of the best in the Swiss league. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived in Basel their season wasn’t going so well, but that apparently does not stop the fans.  FCB fans are known for their passion, a euphemistic word that does not convey the fact that police in riot gear are always present for games and that at some points there is a fear of the stadium catching fire. But I’ll come to that.

After much online research and a few local consultations, I purchased stadium seat tickets to an FCB vs Young Boys game. Bern is a big rival for Basel these days, so the match promised to be an exciting one. My seats were located in an ideal spot, I had a clear view of the pitch and the FCB fan section was close enough to enjoy the atmosphere without being afraid. Again, I’ll get to that. Two days before the game I stopped by the FCB fan store and picked up some Christmas gifts for the family and a jersey and winter hat for myself. It was important to show local spirit so I wasn’t mistaken for a fan of the rival team by wearing my usual all black.

On the day of the match the city turned blue and red, most notably in my packed tram car to the stadium filled with fans of all ages and levels of intoxication. Unfortunately, I didn’t’ make it in time to see the game kick off fireworks, but boy did I hear them. As I walked by the riot police on the way to the entrance the cacophony of bangs and cheers could be heard well over the stadium walls.

Arriving at my seat, beer in hand, I found the stadium still covered in a fog of smoke from the fireworks and the game in full swing. I got my first look at the FCB fan section and it is truthfully like nothing else I’ve ever seen. A sea of FCB fans dressed in all black were waving hundreds of flags, some three times the size of the people waving them. The cheering had begun before I arrived, and the songs didn’t stop until the game ended. The most surprising thing about it all? The flares. Inside the stadium hundreds of fans had flares which they lit at exciting moments throughout the game, filling the stadium with even more smoke and making me wonder about the nearest emergency exit. If I was the rival team, I would be intimidated.

The game itself was about as expected; the players touched each other lightly and fell down in agony, there was almost a fist fight on the field, and in the end Basel lost 1-3 to the Young Boys. I would go back again in a heartbeat, but this time I’ll make it for the opening fireworks.

field.JPG
at game.JPG

Basel Bound

When I was in Switzerland in 2016, I spent weeks trying to find a way to stay. Any job that would allow me to live and work in the beautiful place without filing for bankruptcy. It didn’t work out then, but when you give life enough time you find some things do come around. For the next few months I’ve been assigned to work with a client in Basel. I’m following what seems like a family tradition, since two of my aunts lived and worked in Basel when they were younger.

I arrived the week of Thanksgiving, having packed away my apartment into storage and narrowed my luggage for Switzerland down to two bags. My temporary apartment is a studio on the Theater street, just few minutes walk form the main square and a quick tram ride to the office. That said, Basel overall is a pretty manageable size and everything is walk-able, especially since cars are banned from the main sections of town.

After overcoming my jet lag, my first weekend in town consisted of walking through the city to acquaint myself with the area. From the Middle Bridge (for centuries one of the only bridges across the Rhine) to Marktplatz (featuring the colorful and imposing Rathaus). I took a free walking tour offered on Sundays by the city and in 2 hours felt like I knew just about everything I needed to about this historic place., I’ve included some highlights below.

  • The entire city was leveled by an earthquake in 1356, so all currently standing buildings were built after this time

  • There are Roman ruins in Basel (realistically, where didn’t the Romans go?)

  • A canal used to run through the city, but it became too dirty and polluted (yuck) so the city covered it over with a road that trams use these days

  • Barfüsseplatz (barefoot square) is named after the monks who would come down from the Monastery on the hill to attend church in the square. Clearly these monks were shoeless. This area is also called ‘Barfi’ by the locals, so I’m adopting the nomencalture

  • The famous Erasmus of Rotterdam is buried in the Basel Münster

  • There are over 40 museums in Basel, it is known as the artistic and cultural capital of Switzerland

Enough facts for one day? Okay, well there’s plenty more to share and even more for me to learn.

IMG_0045 (2).JPG
IMG_0082 (1).JPG
IMG_0327.JPG