Archive for February, 2010

You know it’s been a party when you find confetti here…

My iPhone Case

…and here…

When Jack recoiled from the water saying "Mummy...there's stuff floating in here...", I laughed thinking it was his own hamburger backwash...but no, it was confetti from two days earlier...

…and when you get home from a parade, vacuum, change pants, vacuum again, then get changed into pj’s that night only to find more confetti in your SECOND pair of pants…now where did that come from?!?


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When you think of the Swiss, you probably (and rightfully) think of perfectly smooth chocolate, efficient banking, and precision timekeepers.

And then, once per year, they go and do something that is so freakishly contrary to their image. This is Fasnacht, or simply, “Swiss Gone Wild”

No, it’s not this:

(for the record, although cows are docile, wonderful, and tasty creatures who provide us with wonderful things like milk, cheese, chocolate, and leather steering wheel covers, they can be quite dangerous when provoked)

So anyways, today marks the beginning of the festival that is dearest to Baslers – Fasnacht.

According to Wikipedia (and verified by interrogating my Swiss and German friends and co-workers):

“It remains unclear exactly why Carnival starts one week later in Basel than elsewhere in Switzerland or Germany.

The common explanation is that after the Reformation in 1520, Basel continued celebrating its Fasnacht, while the other regions officially stopped. It is said, that in order to differ from the Catholic customs, Fasnacht was scheduled one week later starting in 1529. There are no documents from this era supporting this theory, and the resolutions from 1529 were not quoted until 200 years later.

Historians note that the Catholic carnival date was rescheduled six days earlier in 1091 in the Council of Benevent, because the Sundays were excluded from the 40-day fasting period before Easter, making Ash Wednesday the first day of Lent. From then until the 16th century, the two carnival dates existed. The first one, ending on Ash Wednesday, was known as the Herren- or Pfaffenfasnacht (lords’ or priests’ carnival) and was observed by those members of the higher echelons of society. The second, one week later at the old time, was known as the Bauernfasnacht (farmers’ carnival). Afterwards, only this second carnival was celebrated in Basel.”

Basically, the Swiss (and Basel in particular) continue to give a big ‘eff you!’ to the Pope by celebrating Fasnacht after the start of Lent.

I like it already. The Swiss put the ‘protest’ in ‘protestant’.

When attending the street parade, or Cortège, you should have purchased (and be wearing!) one of these:

Or else a character (Waggis) who looks like this:

Will likely throw at you some of this:

(they also throw candy, oranges, bananas, toys, ladies underwear, carrots, and parsnips).

Sometimes they will just confetti bomb you for fun, after luring you close with the promise of a flower or treat.

We enjoyed listening to the Cliques as they marched with their flutes and drums.Very excellent skills. I was super impressed with the talent of the bands, as well as the amazing costumes and the sharp wit of the themes.

Oh yeah, you can forget about personal space, barriers, or any of that crap. There were two parades going around the city at the same time, on the same route, in opposite directions. We stood in the ‘island’ in the middle of the road, with marching bands and wagons of mad Waggis both in front and behind us. We were brushing shoulders with the drummers!

The costumes were a treat.

This year, the mad dictator Colonel Gaddafi was the prime target. I don’t blame them… the jackass filed a UN submission calling for the abolition of Switzerland after his jackass of a son was arrested here for beating his servants. For real?

So that’s a wrap.

…sort of. The festivities continue for three days. That’s right – three days. Members of the cliques will march through the old city, playing their drums and flutes all day long.

If you are ever going to visit Basel, do it in late February and enjoy Fasnacht.

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I once read a Swiss blog where the author commented on Switzerland being the largest country in the world. Coming from a relatively small island in Canada that’s actually the same geographical area as the entire Swiss nation, I balked slightly at that and wondered which school the author attended. Surely I’d be avoiding registering my children there!

But the author went on to say that many Swiss citizens believe they have the largest country in the world because although they are geographically small, they are culturally massive. Where else do you condense four national languages, three distinct cultures and a splash of excellent English into just over 40,000 km²?

He has a point.

With my sister visiting this past January, we took Timothy’s most generous offer and escaped sans enfants for a weekend away. Zena had studied Italian for a few years and her heart was set on stealing away to Italy for a week but unfortunately, days after booking the flight, she lost her job in the American economy debacle and was forced to turn her European Escapade into a more centralized Swiss Scamper. Knowing her heart’s desire was to be immersed in Italian, I started researching Italian-speaking cities within Switzerland for our weekend away. Tocino was obviously the first thought but we eventually settled on a journey through the Alps and a night in Poschiavo.


Yeah, that’s what we thought. And I think that’s what went through the SBB Travel Consultant’s mind when I asked him to help us get there. Poschiavo (pronounced poss-KYA-vo) is probably the furthest point one could travel from Basel while remaining in Switzerland. Over 325 km away, it took us six hours to train from Basel to Chur to Samedan to Pontresina before finally ending up in Poschiavo. Just as expected, the world as we knew it transformed into Italian somewhere around Pontresina and my sister was in paradiso.

A typical European snack: bread, cheese and wine...while standing. The non-European thing would be the coffee in a to-go cup (so North American of us!).

Although the trip through the Alps aboard the Bernina Express, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was spectacular, this trip would have been downright excruciating had we brought the kids along. Scenery is just another boring slideshow for most four-year-olds (or even some forty-year-olds, for that matter) and the relief of not having the kids with me crossed my mind more than once.

But with just us to gab and enjoy a bottle of wine, we sat back and took in the ride as the train winded back and forth through 145 km of breathtaking views. We traveled over cavernous viaducts, elegant glaciers, crossed 196 bridges and passed through 55 tunnels. Navigating inclines of up to 70%, the train climbs 2253 meters without the use of rack rails or other engineering tricks and at various spots along the journey, one can look out the window to stare straight down the face of an incredible alp.

Once arrived in Poschiavo, we were greeted by…well, nothing. The quaint village lays between two mountains in the Poschiavo Valley and one can walk the entire distance in less than 20 minutes (yeah, we did that). The stated population is around 3,500 but one local told us only 1,600 people live in the actual town centre. After checking into our hotel (a six-minute walk from the train station, of course), we asked where a local would go for a drink. We were directed to walk out the hotel door, take 10 steps to the left and find ourselves at the local pub, Bar Flora.

I’m positive that in the spring and summer months, this photogenic town would be teeming with sun-filled terrace cafés and charming stone-paved piazzas. Unlike some of the big cities I’ve been to, the locals here seem to take a genuine interest in you and were glad you came. One visit to the town’s watering hole and we were fast friends with the locals; practicing our Italian (or lack thereof), observing the stark differences between our culture and theirs, and learning what it means to be a Swiss Italian verses a German-speaking Swiss (a distinction they were quick to make).

By the time we made our way back to the hotel, it was four in the morning and the entire building was dark. In big-city-girl fashion, I started to panic thinking that we were going to be stuck in the cold while our warm hotel beds awaited our return just inside. But of course, our room key acted as a master and opened up the main doors. Something about that made me smile as I thought of all the busy 24-hour Front Desk’s I’ve encountered. Imagine my delight when the Hotel Chef himself checked us out the next morning, graciously speaking to us in slow, simple Italian — even though he spoke perfect English. The entire experience was more like staying with a family friend, rather than just some hotel in a strange place.

So although there is a time for major sights and world-renowned locales, our little trip to the middle-of-nowhere Poschiavo reminded us that sometimes the best travel experiences are within the hidden pockets of daily life found in small towns, quaint villages and the heart of the locals.

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