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Travel in Switzerland: Laufenburg

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Travel in Switzerland: Laufenburg

I was on the train to a client in Schaffhausen when I noticed the most gorgeous little city with a bridge in the middle of it.  It was leafy green with terracotta roofs peeping out and the beautiful green Rhine flowing at its heart.  My eyes literally bulged out, I quickly got out my phone to open maps to find out exactly where I am, but because I was in Germany at the time, my phone didn't have any internet so I couldn't work it out.  

Fast forward some months and I took Patrick back to Schaffhausen to see the Rhinefall.  I told Patrick about this little mysterious city i saw... I didn't know when it would pop up but I told him to keep an eye out... Together with his Swiss knowledge and my investigative-reading-road-sign skills, we worked it out to be Laufenburg!  

Fast forward some more months later and we finally got our act together to make a day trip of it. We went on a Sunday so the city was quiet and quaint - we hiked up a mountain (okay, it was a hill) to reach this gorgeous lookout (okay, it was someone's driveway) overlooking these cute goats and picture perfect views of the city.  The bridge in the city acts as a border between Switzerland and Germany and a border control office sits on the Swiss side as a reminder.  

This town has to be one of my favourites I've seen so far... so picturesque - I definitely recommend a visit!

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An expats guide to Basel Fasnacht

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An expats guide to Basel Fasnacht

Even though I had been in Basel for three christmas's, I'd never once seen Fasnacht.  Patrick had, of course, known and loved this festival since he was a child. I am so proud of him as this past year he has learnt to play the trombone to take part in Fasnacht with Grachsymphoniker.   I remember even in the years we were in Australia, he would be up in the middle of the night watching the live stream on the internet.  I didn't quite get it!

Now I do.  Basler Fasnacht has made the UNESCO list for Intangible Cultural heritage and it is referred to as die drey scheenschte Dääg (the three most beautiful days). The only way for me to describe it is an explosion of colour, music and art.   There are many similar festivals nearby in Switzerland and Germany however the Basel Fasnacht is the most well-known.  It also has its own unwritten rules (i'll detail some of them below) and 'Baseleans' can always spot (and frown upon) the outsiders when they don't follow the 'rules'.

Fasnacht begins with people pouring down the streets of basel early on Monday morning making their way to the city for morgestraich.  This alone was quite a surreal experience. Getting up before 3am to cram on a tram with adults and children alike dressed up in their festive costumes and then walking over the mittlerebrücke with hundreds of others, wishing each other 'schöne morgestraich'.  You can feel the buzzing energy as people anticipate the start of the carnival. At exactly 4am, the city lights go out.  Even stores which are open have to block out their windows.  All you can see are the colourful lanterns and all you can hear the sound of piccolo's and drums as they parade in the old town of Basel.  Each of the Fasnacht groups, called cliques, choose a theme which is conveyed in their lantern artwork and costumes.  They comment on social and political issues and are usually highly satirical. I heard someone say that Fasnacht takes the dark and turns it into light!  This year we saw the 'Ballistic Games' featuring North Korea and USA in an olympic style parade and also a few featuring 'bugs' commenting on the newly opened restaurant that sells a burger made from insects!

The carnival lasts for exactly 72 hours - finishing on Thursday morning at 4am.  I spoke to a band member who said Fasnacht has so many elements of life in it - It has joy, music, love, colour, humour and celebration, but because it runs through the night, you can feel exhausted. It also highlights some pretty grim themes happening in our world (even if it is in a humourous way).  It was incredible to hear some of the members of Grachsymphoniker had injuries (or injured them self during the carnival) yet continued through pain to be part of it.  You witness great loyalty and team spirit amongst the bands. 

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A parade (Cortège) of all the groups happens Monday afternoon and Wednesday afternoon.  All the shops close so everyone can enjoy the festivities.  It consists of the guggemusik (brass bands), cliques (pipers and drummers) with their lantern floats, and waggis wagen.  People (mostly kids) will hold out their hands and call after the waggis to give them treats - they hand out flowers, fruit and vegetables, drinks (even beer!), lollies and loads of confetti!  Most of the kids are after the lollies - I witnessed a child get quite disappointed when he put his hand out and received a carrot!

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If you are a Fasnacht first-timer, you might want to follow these unwritten rules of Fasnacht:

  • Confetti (Räppli) is only sold, bought and thrown in individual colours.  This was put in place to stop people reselling 'used' confetti. You also should not pick up confetti from the floor and throw it again - make sense... who wants confetti mixed with dirt thrown in your face?
  • Confetti should not be thrown at masked participants of the carnival - I suppose this is a sign of respect for those taking part
  • Everyone should buy a Fasnacht Blaggedde (badge) - they have 4 'levels' of badges ranging in price.  The proceeds go to each of the groups to help them cover expenses of the carnival.  If you're not wearing one - expect to get dumped with confetti a few times!  They say if you don't buy one, you are harming Fasnacht
  • Fasnacht is renowned for its masks, not painted faces as it is in other carnivals.  You'll stick out like a sore thumb (perhaps not in a good way) if you paint your face rather than wear a mask. 
  • There may be times you have to cross the parade route to get to another location - its is disrespectful to cross through a band, you should wait until it has passed and cross between bands.  On this same note, you should always move out the way for the bands.  More than likely, they will not stop/move for you anyway, so if you don't want a drumstick in your face - make way!
  • If you speak German, you should know that everyone is on first name basis at the carnival, which means you'll be saying the informal 'du' instead of formal 'Sie'
  • Guggemusik don't perform at Morgestraich as this is reserved only for Clique groups, but in return the Tuesday night concert at Marktplatz is only for guggemusik
  • When they turn the lights off at 4am for morgestraich it should be be dark - photo flashes are frowned upon!

A couple of other things you should know is that Fasnacht is loud and crowded and takes over the entire city.  The trams don't run through the city which means you'll have to put on your walking shoes.  Due to the close proximity to the smoking-loving swiss, you'll probably inhale quite a bit of smoke too (and thats not including the smoke bombs they often let off).  But the joy, music and celebration is worth the inconveniences. I definitely think that everyone going through Basel should experience it!

 

 

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An Australians' experience living in Switzerland

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An Australians' experience living in Switzerland

It's been a year since this Australian got on a plane to Switzerland, not knowing how long we'll be here for or what challenges, travels and momentous occasions will unfold.  I have to start this post by counting my blessings and although not every moment has been peachy, I do realise not everyone is fortunate enough to live in two beautiful countries such as Australia and Switzerland. 

I wanted to share what its been like for me, an Australian, to move to Basel - the quirks, the awesome surprises and the things that make me want to pack my bags and take the next plane back to Australia. 

The scenery

I had a funny encounter with a check-out lady who picked up on my accent. She couldn't understand why I had moved to Switzerland when I came from such a beautiful country.  She said she'd move to Australia in a heartbeat if she won lotto.  I remember saying something along the same lines to my husband - "Why would you move to Australia when you live in Switzerland!?" I'm not denying the beauty of Australia, however the Swiss landscape leaves little to be desired (okay, maybe the beach!) - majestic mountains and crystal blue lakes do something to my soul! I feel at peace around a landscape so grand.  

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They're not breakfast people

I tell you, I'm missing the cool cafes/restaurants of Perth - Harvest Espresso, Bib & Tucker, Imp, Tiisch and so many more.  I am dying for some creative breakfast food!  The truth is, they don't really do breakfast here - it's all croissants and muesli, which is okay... but it's a bit boring. Their brunch consists of meat, cheese, bread and if they're really out there - scrambled eggs and bacon.  It sounds like such a superficial thing, but visiting cool cafes was one of my most favourite things to do to relax. Cool interior design, awesome tasty food and good coffee.... c'mon Switzerland!

Post comes on Saturdays 

Poor posties - they work 6 days a week... but it means we can get packages delivered on Saturdays too!  hooray!

The seasons

In Australia  (Perth specific)- there's basically two seasons - hot/warm weather, or rainy, slightly colder weather.  In Switzerland, Every one of the seasons brings a different landscape - the many flowers of spring time, the warm summer and blue skies, the spectacular shades of orange, red and brown in Autumn (where leaves actually fall off the trees) and the snow, bare trees and blistering cold of winter. I've seen so much more beauty in the seasons!!

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Swiss checkout assistants don't work as hard as the Aussies

Okay, maybe they do work just as hard but I actually miss food shopping in Australia.  It's so easy - great variety in each spacious supermarket, pick your food take it to the checkout, then put the bagged groceries in your trolley, to the car and then your home.  In Switzerland - It's a bit more effort.  When you pick your fruit and vegies, you then have to weigh it, put in the code and put a sticker barcode on each item.  Then when you get to the checkout (its a bit like Aldi) you have to bag it all yourself. It gets a bit chaotic when you're trying to bag everything before the next customer, pray you remembered to put the barcode on everything, and pay for it.  All my items are just thrown in the bags... lucky the bread is crusty and doesn't get squashed too much!  All plastic bags cost money here (so everyone generally brings their own) and then you've got to lug it home on the tram.  Food shopping should be an olympic sport here. I should get a medal! haha. 

Its easier to buy alcohol than panadol 

In supermarkets you can easily buy alcohol, even my corner supermarket has a good selection of wine, beer and spirits.  But panadol?  You need to go to the pharmacy.  We had a funny situation when we went to Mürren for a weekend and needed some panadol, but because it was a little town (only accessed by a gondola) and the town doctor passed away recently (!!!)  you couldn't buy any! Over the counter drugs are quite easily accessed in Australia, didn't realise this until I came here.  It annoys me I have to make a special trip to the pharmacy to buy panadol (first world problem, I know - but I live in Switzerland, all my problems are first world)

Dogs come everywhere

Honestly, nothing brightens my day more than seeing the happy dog on the tram that gets to go everywhere with their owner.  People are always out with their dogs, walking them, food shopping, getting lunch. Just don't forget to buy a big dog a ticket for the tram. I've seen (a few times now) dogs being carted around in prams. They honestly live the best life here, and they're pretty well behaved too... oh to be a dog in Switzerland! 

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No beach, No worries

So, there's no beach here - but that doesn't stop the Swiss from enjoying Summer!  They're out on the Rhine and multiple rivers and lakes around Switzerland with their beach towels and big inflatable flamingos bathing in the water and sunbathing on the grass. Some of the lakes are so clean and clear you can see the ducks legs paddling beneath the surface.

In fact, all year round - everyone is out enjoying the outdoors - hiking, skiing, swimming, skydiving, base jumping... it really is an adventurers paradise.

On the topic of water though- the water is so fresh and clean you can drink it straight from the tap. No filter required.

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They don't hip hooray 

After happy birthday we always do the hip hip hooray in Australia... maybe even a 'for she's a jolly good fello'.  But after the happy birthday (which they weirdly, all sing in English) there's nothing else... feels like its missing something!

Travel is cheap and easy

Travel is so easy. In a few short hours (or less) I can be in Italy, France, or Germany.  Its a 3 hour train trip to Paris, I can be in Germany or France in 10 minutes, and a short plane trip can take you to any european city.  The train trips through Switzerland  have the most beautiful views - I cannot put away my camera! Every time I'm on a train in Switzerland.. I count my lucky stars i'm here and get to see views like this on the reg. 

We also have access to a 'half-card'. We pay an annual fee to get half price off our train tickets - it's more than paid for itself. Sometimes they also have special day tickets - CHF29 for a day ticket. Considering I can get to any place in Switzerland in less than 3 hours it's easy and affordable to do day trips.

 View from the Train over Lac Léman (Lake Geneva)

View from the Train over Lac Léman (Lake Geneva)

So much more smoking

I have to say... it's my biggest gripe about living here.  There's double the amount of smokers here than in Australia. Switzerland is very behind in smoking laws.  They're allowed to smoke on train/tram/bus platforms, they smoke right at the entrance to many shops and restaurants and even in kids playgrounds.  (I should note they are just about to trial no smoking in 6 train stations across Switzerland - it's been met with much resistance).  In summer, I feel sad that I can't really dine outdoors without breathing in smoke.  It's made me so grateful for the strict laws in Australia that makes fresh air a common privilege, but ugh.... It's the bane of my existence here in Switzerland.

Tradition 

Switzerland is steeped in tradition.  Patrick always snickered at 'tradition' in Australia - as it usually means it's only been running for around 100 years (or less). In Switzerland there are many traditional events such as Fasnacht, Vogel Gryff and Desalpé (in the mountains) which have been running for more than a few centuries - sometimes it's been running for centuries beyond what's recorded so it's hard to determine when these started. It actually boggles my mind thinking of all the people that have come before us also taking part in these events.  Sometimes I'm amazed that such outdated, and down-right weird events still take place. In Zurich, they burn the 'böög' (English translation: boogie!) until its' head falls off. The longer his head stays on, the better the summer will be.  

 Desalpé in Charmey.  When the farmers adorn the cows/goats with bells and flowers and walk them down the mountain for winter.  

Desalpé in Charmey.  When the farmers adorn the cows/goats with bells and flowers and walk them down the mountain for winter.  

Expensive is an understatement

When I first arrived, I mentally converted the cost of things to AU$.  Probably a bad move!  AU$40 for a small plate of sushi (from the supermarket!), AU$20 for two Starbucks coffee's, AU$120 for two indian dishes, rice and 2 non-alcoholic drinks,  AU$5 for a short one-way tram trip to the city, AU$320 for a doctor visit (until you reach your health insurance excess).  The bright side is you obviously get paid much better here too.  But I can understand why some people can't afford to visit Switzerland for very long, but it makes visiting Italy even sweeter - "wait, the best pasta ever for 12 euro??? heck-to-the-yes".

They're serious about rules

Noise and recycling have the most restrictions in Switzerland. No noise from 10pm, and between 12-2pm and Sundays. So don't even think about assembling your ikea furniture during those times.  For recycling: take your glass to a local recycling station, take your plastic to the supermarket, your cardboard needs to be put together for a separate verge-side collection and general rubbish needs to be in swiss-approved bags for collection.  And for when the noise and recycling come together: No glass recycling on the weekends because it makes too much noise when you drop it in. Yes... I'm serious. 

 One of many delicious meals enjoyed in Italy!

One of many delicious meals enjoyed in Italy!

So overall - what's it like?

There are obviously things i miss about Australia - Sunshine almost all year round, fresh clean air, creative affordable food, and of course - my friends and family.  However 2017 was honestly one of the best years of my life.  I've learnt some German, been able to travel to some GORGEOUS places with amazing people and got to know so much more about how the Swiss live and enjoy life. Switzerland is a visual feast for the eyes and as a photographer I couldn't be happier.  Financially, I am so grateful to Switzerland for giving us opportunity to build our wealth for our futures.  It's taken some time to shift perspective from what I'm missing in Switzerland to what I have, but I think ending a year here and being able to reflect on all I've experienced has made me super grateful and 'hashtag-blessed' for all it's given me.  

Even though I wrote this blog post after a year, I am still continually surprised by things which are new to me - pleasant surprises and also things which are darn confusing.  I'm looking forward to another year of learning and swiss experiences.  If you haven't been, Switzerland is definitely worth a visit - let me know if you want any recommendations. 

 Lauterbrunnen Valley.

Lauterbrunnen Valley.

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La Desalpe de Charmey 2017

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La Desalpe de Charmey 2017

One of the top activities I had to see in Switzerland was the annual cow descent.  There are numerous throughout Switzerland but we chose Charmey - a french speaking town in the canton of Fribourg.  The cows here make the tasty, world renowned Gruyere cheese, and is said to be one of the best festivals around.  

The descent has been taking place each year for centuries, and the festival in Charmey has been running for almost 40 years.  After 100 summer days grazing in the Alps, the farmers return the cows to their valley pastures before the winter arrives.  Apparently these cows produce over 3,000 tonnes of cheese every summer.   Alpine cheese is highly prized due to the quality of the milk - the cows graze on only grass and herbs which gives the milk and cheese a great taste and excellent quality.

We ended up getting a hotel in Fribourg as the Charmey hotels were all booked out.  A sign of how popular this festival is.  We made our way early to charmey village via train and bus.  The first group of animals came shortly afterward.  Crowds and TV Stations watched on as the cows (and some goats) were celebrated, adorned with flower headdresses and cowbells.  The farmers wear traditional dress including hand-stitched leather satchels (which the farmers apparently keep salt for cheese-making). 

These days, there aren't many days in which we show gratitude and respect to animals which serve us humans.  These cows give us milk, and a source of food.  They are a livelihood for many farmers and an important part of the swiss culture and trade.  It makes me so happy to see a community (and many visitors) get behind it.  (A side note:  even through Gruyere cheese is relatively cheap and plentiful in Switzerland, it sells for roughly AUD$90 a kilo in Australia!)

There were also many stands for wine, crafts, and of course - cheese! Alphorn players and brass bands entertained the crowds as the cows, horses and goats made their way through the village.  Traffic was backed up as the cows took precedence.  I felt like a had a true Swiss experience and I hope many others get to see it!

I made a little video from some of my photos and video clippings which hopefully give you a good glimpse of what the day is like. 

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Art Basel

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Art Basel

I was so excited to be in town for Art Basel this year.  Patrick surprised me with tickets so we made our way there this morning to make the most of the day. It was so much bigger than I expected - the equivalent to 3 floors of art exhibitions plus Art Basal Miami.  The collection of art were modern, a lot of them interactive and most with meaningful messages.  Art Basel featured works from over 4,000 artists from 291 of the worlds best galleries. 

I love that Basel comes alive this time of year - there's people out everywhere enjoying themselves, pop up restaurants in full swing and the rhine is lined with people soaking up the sunshine. My fitbit tells me i walked 14,000 steps today... and i'm not even mad - it's what happens when the sun shines 15 hours a day!  

Here are a few images from my first Art Basel experience.

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Italian Getaway

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Italian Getaway

A last minute decision for a quick weeks holiday in Italy was a great one!  

Our wedding photographers, Kevin & Katie from K Hulett Photography were flying into Zurich from the U.S. and driving down to Lake Como (where we were married two years ago)  to photograph another wedding (in the same hotel we were).  They were also headed to Cinque Terre for a couple of days - a place where I've always wanted to go.  I cheekily asked if we could join them to share some expenses.   They were so lovely to say yes, and Patrick was lucky to get a bit of time off work too.  

I can't tell you how lovely this trip was!!  It was the perfect mix between relaxing, exploring, delicious food (at great prices) and we couldn't have asked for two better people to share our time with - great conversation and lots of laughs. With 3 out of the 4 of us being photographers, we spent our last night taking some couple shots of each other (in a blog post coming soon).  

In the meantime, here are some of my favourite pictures from the trip.  

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Switzerland Winterland

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Switzerland Winterland

I spent Christmas and new year in my new home in Switzerland (before a brief hiatus back in Perth). For an Australian, 15 degrees is pretty chilly and on those cold Perth mornings, 8 degrees is blistering cold! Well, my Aussie wardrobe wasn't really holding up in the Swiss winter.  In December, the temperature barely rose above 1 degree and if it did, it was for half an hour at 3pm, when it got to 3 degrees. 

As cold as it was, Switzerland has a charm about it.  I could look at that icy looking skyline forever (well, maybe if i was out of the wind and cold!). The christmas markets are spectacular. We enjoyed hot roasted salmon in bread rolls while looking at the stalls.  Enjoyed Gluhwein at crowded tables - everyone out enjoying themselves. I was sad to see it all packed down after christmas.  Nevertheless, I will be waiting for the next christmas markets to return!

Here are my favourite photos i took of our wintertime in Switzerland.

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