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So the World Cup is on.

To be honest, I’ve never watched a World Cup tournament before. How typically North American of me (excluding Mexico… they are actually very good at football!). So here I am in Switzerland (yes, they qualified too), surrounded by friends who are from many different countries, and football fever is in full effect.

This reminds me of something I wanted to mention. Basel is a very international city. Its unique location at the crossroads of Switzerland, France and Germany, combined with the presence of two of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies means that 30% of the population are foreigners. My daily interactions include not only Swiss, but Germans, French, Italians, Slovaks, English, Irish, Scottish, Spanish and Americans. Even though we live in Switzerland, our experience is truly an international one.

Now back to the world cup. One of the regular characters in our life is Martin, an English friend of mine who has spent the past nine months indoctrinating me into the cult of football in general, and Manchester United in particular. I was not surprised when he dropped off a pair of kid-sized England jerseys for the twins to wear.

I went to Martin’s place to watch the first match – England vs. USA. Uh oh… this could hurt. Once everyone was assured that I was cheering for England instead of the USA (hey… she’s my Queen too!), the match was underway.

This was heartbreaking…

I gotta admit that, while it was disappointing to see England draw vs US, the match was one of the most entertaining sporting events I’ve seen. Could have been the company – mostly British, with a few Germans and Mexicans thrown in there – but maybe I’m actually learning to love this sport.

———–

And purse-snatchers?

Yeah. Yesterday we made a trip to France to buy a bicycle for Tasha so that we could make some proper family trips. On the way home we stopped by the main train station in Basel. As we are standing there, we hear a woman cry out and see a young guy running off with a purse, cutting sharply into the crowded main station hall. I gave Tasha my bike and took off after him.

In the crowded area I almost lost him, but I began to shout “Thief! Achtung!” and people made way for me. I was closing the gap quickly and he knew it. I was maybe three metres from him when he ditched the purse and took off out of the station hallways, so I figured that was enough.

I returned the purse to this old lady who was babbling at me in Swiss German, and then headed home. Hero cookie for me!

Criminals and scum, beware!

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It started innocently enough.

Tim explained to Jack that we were borrowing Martin’s car for the morning and asked him where he’d like to go; France, Germany or somewhere in Switzerland.

“Let’s go to France!”, came the reply.  I chuckled to myself knowing that he had no idea how incredibly ridiculous it was that he could choose between three countries for a spontaneous family day trip.

After getting a bit of tedious shopping out of the way (hey! we have more than just wires hanging from our living room ceiling now!), we huddled back into Martin’s car and headed for the hills…well, I guess we actually headed away from the hills but let’s not get uptight about it…we were gettin’ out of Dodge!

At risk of sounding even more like my parents, we didn’t have any sort of plan in mind and just drove.  As a kid, we’d ask dad where we were going and would always get the reply “I don’t know! Ask the car.”  I still get control-freak goosebumps even thinking about how frustrating that stupid answer was.  But in this case, the car most likely did know better than us as to where we were going.  All Tim knew was that he relished in the refreshing 130 km/h speed limits where (get ready to be horrified Victoria peeps) everyone actually drives 130 km/h…and that was in the slow lane. Quelle horreur!

We pulled off and explored a few tiny french villages, eventually settling on Guebwiller, a town of just over 11,000 people.  Claim to fame: birth place of ceramicist Theodore Deck (right, so that’s not very fame-claim-worthy but let’s be honest — good ol’ Theodore just taught you a new word).

Ceramicist‘s aside, the town didn’t have a lot of mojo.  Of the 20 or so shops open, 18 of them were bakeries (seriously, what is in the water over here to keep these people skinny?!?!) but we did manage to find an incredibly authentic chocolate croissant (at a patisserie) and a coffee junkie’s dream of a Cafe au Lait (at a salon de thé). And this wasn’t your typical American latte.  Non non! This was a perfected double espresso paired with your very own single serving milk jug of frothy steamed milk.  Although what I’m about to do goes against everything I’ve ever learned in creative writing grammar classes, there’s no better explanation…

…mmmmmmmmm…

(sigh)

I think the only thing that could have made that cafe experience more enjoyable would have been Jack no longer picking his nose and yelling “KLEENEX!!” while simultaneously holding out his finger in my face every five minutes. But nevertheless, we were in France and it only took us twenty minutes to get there.

As we headed back to Basel, we felt a little bit ripped off, to be honest.  We didn’t do anything all that exciting and there’s nothing like a couple of bored four-year-olds to remind you of that.  The villages were quaint and cute but not really the kind of stuff to write home about. Oh, wait…

So what do you do when you have no idea what to do?

You ask the nearest toddler.

This time the boys insisted we head to the hills. And now I mean the real hills…the ones in the distance with the trees of white and random castles seeming to hang in the sky.  We promptly put away the Tom Tom and pointed the car in the direction of the snow-dusted hilltops.  We ended up in Arlesheim, a little village on the outskirts of Basel. One of the greatest treasures of Europe (and a country so much older than your own), is how easy it is to stumble across this…

J&L having a moment in front of castle ruins dating back to 1356. If you look closely, you can see Jack being all "big brother" to Liam! So cute!

Thanks to some aggressive tree-shaking, the boys got to catch snowflakes on their tongues!

Now, what do you get when you mix two Canadian boys with a pack of Swiss kids and fresh snowfall?

A good ol’ fashioned Canadian whoopin’, actually.

I’ll just start this off by saying that they started it.  We were politely walking around the castle when a snowball came tumbling down from the lookout above (you can see their little heads if you look close enough!).  So as any good Canadian parents would do, we started pelting them with snowballs, packed Canadian-style.

The steep throw was too much for J&L but they held their own critical roles in the battle. As seen here, Jack supplied me with ammunition while Liam taunted them with his "that's all you got" snowball dance.

Eventually the boys had had enough. They stormed the castle! We tried to shout after them and explain the faulty logistics of 2 taking on 8 but it fell on deaf ears. They were hungry for vengeance!

Tim and I followed after them, climbing back up to the castle courtyard. As we rounded the corner, all we saw was absolute chaos. Jack was displaying his Kung-Fu Panda ninja moves in between hucking snowballs from two feet away while Liam just ran in circles tiring all of their throwing arms with his moving target just in time for Jack to pelt them in the face.

A quick scan of the smiling faces of the other parents showed that they were in fact okay with our kids kicking their kid’s butts so we let it go on for a few more minutes.  But when we saw a little boy just standing in the crossfire with nothing but chocolate to defend himself (you’re not fighting ladies here buddy!), we pulled them off of the remaining opposition and said our goodbyes (Auf Wiedersehen!).  As far as we could tell, it ended somewhere around:

Canadian Boys – 5

Swiss Boys – 0

We may have spent time that day sipping cafe au laits in France and trampling on the snow-covered hills of Switzerland but it was all overshadowed by this very proud Canadian moment.

This post has been brought to you by the good people at Martin’s Rent-a-Ford.

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I’ve spent much of the past few years in Victoria enjoying the wonders of local craft beer. I love it.

Topping my list of Victoria craft breweries is Phillips Brewing Company, whose Amnesiac double-IPA is a wonderous invention, Lighthouse Brewing Company, and Spinnaker’s Brew Pub.

In the not-too-distant-past, I went on a triple-brewery tour in Victoria with a group of friends. Three breweries in one glorious afternoon. In the more recent-distant-past, I accepted a new job in Basel and packed up my life to move overseas.

Switzerland isn’t known for it’s beer. This is strange to me, considering that it borders both Germany and Austria, which are famous for the “Bavarian Purity Law” and have high standards for quality beer. Then again… Switzerland also borders both France and Italy, renowned for their wine. So the Swiss go with vino instead of ale.

The “national” ale of Switzerland is an aweful thing called Feldschlösschen.

agecheck_03a

This stuff is aweful. It should really be called Feldsucken. It’s the equivalent of Molson Canadian. For the first few weeks of life in Switzerland, I was making regular trips over the border into Germany just to buy large cases of decent beer.

And then I met Rafael.

One Saturday afternoon, as the family and I – plus Martin and Anne – were wandering through the small streets of old Basel, I found a man with a table full of beer set up in front of a specialty liquor shoppe. I recognize a craft brewer when I see one, and I made a beeline for his booth.

Dude is serious about his beer

Dude is serious about his beer

La Brasserie Trois Dames is a young Swiss Venture, started by Rafael Mettler. And he makes quality beer.

We sampled every single one of his beers right then and there in the street, and then I purchased … well … lots. It turns out that he is Swiss, from the French district, and he lived in Vancouver for two years, working with many local craft brewers in Gas Town, and on Vancouver Island. In 2007, he cleaned up at the British Columbia Beer Contest (Victoria), taking home the Best In Show award, and Gold and Silver awards for several brews. Heck, the label for his “Pacific Ale” features the Vancouver skyline!

beer_label_pacific_540

He mentioned that there would be a party event at the brewery in Sainte-Croix at the end of October, and that I should come down for it. The perfect excuse for a boys’ adventure – travel by train to a small Swiss town in the French quarter and bathe in beer. Mmmmmm. Joel and Martin put up little resistance.

So on Saturday morning, we packed up and headed to Sainte-Croix. The train ride was beautiful, and we had an amazing view of the Swiss Alps breaking through a layer of clouds. Awe-inspiring.

At one point on the trip, everything switched from German to French. Announcements on the train. Signs in the towns. Conversations of people near us. It was great for me – my French is quite good – but it threw Martin and Joel.

The Brasserie Trois Dames has restored my hope in Swiss beer.

À votre santé!

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Tim and I planned a traditional Thanksgiving dinner to celebrate our first Canadian holiday as expats.  While most of you were enjoying turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie a week ago, the boys and I were still zombies recovering from the 9-hour time difference.  After a week of adjusting our sleeping patterns, visiting countless grocery stores, specialty food stores and ethnic grocers for the necessary ingredients and up until the wee hours preparing food, we sat down to overloaded plates on Sunday night.

 Tim had to resort to desparate measures for the onion cutting! I was five feet away and still weeping...oh wait, I was crying from laughing so hard!

Tim had to resort to desparate measures for the onion cutting! I was five feet away and still weeping...oh wait, I was crying from laughing so hard!

To join in the festivities, we invited a few friends (okay, we invited our only friends) and set out to provide them with a real Canadian experience.  In total, we had 3 English, 2 Germans, and 5 Canadians crammed in around our IKEA breakfast table jutted up against our friend’s matching IKEA breakfast table (so there is an upside to everyone having the same furniture as you…).

Other furniture coming soon!

Amidst the chaos of making a meal for 10 people, you don't get "before" pictures.

Thanksgiving is of course a holiday commemorating the pilgrims who discovered the Americas and gave thanks for the first harvest, so I knew that Europeans wouldn’t celebrate it. What I wasn’t expecting were the guests who had never tasted pumpkin pie! EVER!  The lack of interest in pumpkin pie means you don’t find the canned stuff in grocery stores here but Tim suggested we boil and puree our own pumpkins…what a great idea! It turned out fantastically and when you think about how easy it is to make pumpkin pie, it’s really not all that much work to make the puree yourself.

I had a chuckle at the English guests telling me that my Brussels Sprouts with Pecan Brown Butter were “simply brilliant”. It just sounded so praiseful with their sophisticated accents and all.  And speaking of brilliant, Tim did an incredible job of his first turkey!  I think the opening line of the recipe directions pretty much sums it up: “2 to 3 days before roasting:”. Say WHAT?! Yeah, you read that right…he started working on preparations for the bird 2 days before dinner!  In fact, it goes further back than that because he had to first find a butcher who could order him a turkey.  After a fair bit of charades and basic German communication, the butcher got on the phone and called a local farmer, secured a turkey of our size and ordered it right there! Now that’s local.

The only other cultural oddity was the comments about my gravy looking “real”. I was perplexed. I’ve never heard of “fake” gravy.  Everyone in my family knows that I take gravy very seriously. The gravy is MY deal. As it turns out, the Swiss don’t even know what gravy is (I mean, who needs gravy when you have melted cheese slathered over everything?) but they typically have what’s called “brown sauce”…an imitation gravy made from a…(GASP!)…package! My mom might be having a panic attack right this very minute.  But it begs the question, if we balk at the brown sauce, I wonder what types of horrific culinary crimes WE North Americans committ?

Tim: How about slices of processed “cheese”?!

Hmmm…good one hun. The Swiss would surely frown upon one-ingredient-from-plastic-American-cheese.  Geesh, there’s only one deli in all of Basel that even sells bonafide Cheddar Cheese!

DRISDELLE THANKSGIVING DINNER MENU

Roast Turkey with Apple Cinnamon Aromatics

Hazelnut Bread Stuffing

Maple Ginger-Glazed Sweet Potatoes

Simple Mashed Potatoes

Brussels Sprouts with Pecan Brown Butter

Fresh Cranberry Sauce

“Real” Roast Turkey Gravy

Fresh Pumpkin Pie with Whipped Cream & Toasted Pumpkin Seeds


All in all, it was a hugely successful Thanksgiving Dinner with great food and fantastic company.  Once we retired for the evening (after hanging out with the English folks, I’m allowed to say words like “retired”, it’s great!), Tim and I reflected on what worked and what we can change for next year when we realized that we forgot to go around the table and share what we’re thankful for! Well, had we remembered, I would have announced that I am thankful for all the support these dear friends have given Tim and I as we make this huge life change. Thank you Martin & Anne, Joel & Sina, and our newest friends, Stephen & Ruth! We appreciate you all.

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Correction

Let me start off by saying that Anne, my German hostess, corrected my use of “sprechen Sie Deutsch” from the first post. So much for the Apple Translator Widget… piece of crap.

It was a rainy day in Basel. Kinda reminds me of home.

Runners

I went for a run this morning with a group whom I found online. They are mostly English, with a couple of Aussies and an Italiano. Two of these guys are elite-level Triathletes – they looked like simliar build to AK, only taller! One of them had just returned from an Ironman race in Monaco on the weekend, where he was stung in the face by a jellyfish while swimming! Holy crap!

I might sign up for a half-marathon in Luzerne at the end of October. The run this morning felt really strong – 10km along the Rhine. I wore my new running shoes that I picked up in Victoria before leaving. They have some shiny red stripes. Jack says that red is the fastest colour.

Velo

Cyclists here have right-of-way over cars. In fact, autos are the low-man on the totem pole.

It goes: trams > pedestriants > velos > autos

There are almost no pickup trucks and SUVs on the roads, and all of the drivers are very, very courteous towards cyclists. I absolutely love it! On many of the (ridiculously narrow) streets, there is still a dedicated bicycle lane, and velos are often allowed to go the opposite way on a one-way street!

But my poor bicycle is now being transformed back to its original pupose as a commuter. My lights are back on, and so is my rack on the back. I’ll be installing new fenders, and changing the tires to be more cobblestone-friendly. This means that if I want to get into triathlons again in the spring, I may need a new bike… ahem…

Basel

Check it out! Some great photos, and even some promotional videos!
http://www.basel.ch/en/

Got Football?

Martin is a ‘uge footy fan. Buh eez English, see, so itz een eez blud.

So naturally, I’m getting sucked into it too. He’s a Manchester United fan, so that means that I am too.

He’s also going to start “training” me to play Fifa 2008 on the XBox.

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On the weekend, we (Martin, Anne, Michael the Irishman, and myself) went to Freiburg to visit Joel and his girlfriend Sina.

Joel is an old friend of mine from Victoria. He moved to Basel more than five years ago. He’s partly to blame for me being here now. When he heard I was moving to Basel, he promptly decided to leave the country. He now commutes in from Freiburg (Germany) every day. Not too shabby, considering that the cost of living in Deutchland is much more affordable than in Schweiz.

Anyways, so we went over on the weekend to go “scootering”. That’s all they told me. I had NO idea what it was (nor did Martin!), but I was up for an adventure.

Riding up the mountainside with Joel and Sina

Riding up the mountainside with Joel and Sina

Eh? Never know what you're going to see on a sign here...

Eh? Never know what you're going to see on a sign here...

Every good adventure begins with pints of beer and shots of honey liquor

Every good adventure begins with pints of beer and shots of honey liquor

View of Freiburg

View of Freiburg

Instructions in German? Pffft. How hard can it be?

Instructions in German? Pffft. How hard can it be?

Downhill scootering!

Downhill scootering!

Well, that was a treat! An 8km downhill trail on push-scooters with mountain-bike-sized wheels! Fricken awesome.

Foreign music?

In other news, I was grocery shopping the other night in Switzerland and I heard a song of questionable content playing on the speakers while I sifted through aisles of cheese. I think that I snort-laughed.

With English lyrics, I bet that most people in the store figure that it’s just a nice foreign dance song with a cool beat. The next time you are shopping and you hear foreign lyrics – beware!

Home?

So I viewed my first “flat” tonight. I think it’s a keeper! But I won’t make any decisions until I view at least a few more. This ground-floor flat (they start counting the first floor on what North Americans call the second floor!) is super sweet. I would show you pics… but the listing doesn’t have any, and I forgot my camera. FAIL!

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Been here almost one week. The flight was good, as was the train ride from Frankfurt to Basel, despite having a giant bicycle box and plenty of luggage.

Bye-bye shitty Canadian Coffee!

Bye-bye shitty Canadian Coffee!

Got luggage?

Got luggage?
Martin & Anne. Always nutty.

Martin & Anne. Always nutty. By the way, this is a bicycle parkade where we left our bikes when we took the train to Germany for a night!

In case you didn’t know, I’m in Basel, which is in the north-west of the small country, right at the border of France and Germany. I’m staying with some friends – an Englishman named Martin K, and his German girlfriend, Anne. They rock.

I’ve got a sweet room, a comfy bed, a dresser, entertainment, a kitchen, friends who speak English and German, and plenty of help.

Been flipping through listings for “flats” here, and been using my bicycle to check out the city neighbourhoods and scratch some of them off of my list.

I have viewings lined up this week! Thankfully, my French is coming back quickly, because many people don’t speak English, but French is one of the four national languages of Switzerland (the others are German, Italian, and Rommansh).

Had my first day at the new job today, too. Fantastic! Very great group of people, and a very culturally diverse group. One thing that doesn’t change is developers… nerds are pretty much the same all over the world. 😛 I have a crazy big office on the top floor of an old building downtown. I share a massive space (4m x 8m) with one other developer, a German guy named Martin G. Martin has a pony-tail, which instantly gives him street cred in the developer world.

Cycling around town, looking at flats. Stopped for a snack on the banks of the Rhine.

Cycling around town, looking at flats. Stopped for a snack on the banks of the Rhine.

On my bike ride home today, I decided that this place will feel like home. And I’m sure that Natasha will really enjoy it here.

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