Here Comes Peter Cottontail…

hopping down the bunny trail, hippity hoppity, Easter’s on its way!

Nothing says spring like festively decorated shop windows, like this one at Läderach in Basel’s Marktplatz.

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Needless to say, Switzerland is a fabulous place for a chocoholic to be at this time of year!

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Losing a Library

My daughter is graduating from high school this spring. For all the new beginnings such an event promises, for parents there is also a sense of impending loss: perhaps one less lunch to pack each day, or one less person at the dinner table. For me, there’s an additional loss:  access to the school library.

As you might have guessed, I am a big fan of libraries. In Basel, my public library has a fabulous collection—in German. Granted, each branch has a small collection in English—one even has a very nice fiction selection—but access to the school library brought me access to a complete library: fiction, non-fiction, periodicals, databases, etc., all in English.

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As an international school library*, it has a broad scope, and the fiction collection features authors from a great many countries. I have discovered Canadian authors, Australian authors, and a host of other authors whose work had been translated into English.

I have a good relationship with the library staff; I probably check out more books than any other parent at the school. I could read about a book, suggest it to them, and, most of the time, they would not only order it but let me know when it had arrived. Reading a “Best of YA” list would send me to the online catalog to see what they had or to the librarians to check what was on their upcoming order list in order to get books I thought my daughter would like.They were also very nice about renewing (and re-renewing) books for me. Best of all, at the end of the school year, my daughter and I could check out an unlimited number of books for the summer. I think our record was thirty ( yes, 30).

With just seven weeks until the end of exams and thus the end of school enrollment, all that access is also coming to an end, so I am reading as fast as I can. Come mid-June, I may be signing up for my first GGG library card.

*Check out International School Library Month, celebrated each October

 

Winter Ephemera

IMG_4334Winter brings with it many things that pass with the season. Here in Basel, we enjoy Zermatt Bacara, a fabulous fondue restaurant that makes its appearance at the beginning of November and stays until the end of March. Those in the know request reservations at the beginning of October because, yes, the fondue is that good.

Each year the entire restaurant is assembled at the beginning of the season and disassembled at the end of the season. The first time we ate there, we looked around in disbelief. How could something so solid looking, so cozy and so warm, be temporary? But it is, down to the ball chains dangling from the the lamps and the deer skulls and old-time photos on the walls. While I have not witnessed it, I have no doubt the building is assembled and disassembled with absolute Swiss efficiency and fits very neatly into a container or two.

The menu seems to stay the same from year to year, so maybe they even pack those away to use again too!

Further afield, we checked out, or into, another temporary winter phenomenon this year, the Ice Hotel.

IMG_3149 Located in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, the Ice Hotel is constructed each year from the River Thorn. The ice, 5000 tons of it, is harvested in deep winter, stored through the summer and shaped and sculpted in the late fall. The ice is used for ornament, sculptural details and yes, the beds. The hotel’s Art Suites are, literally, works of art and change each year. Hundreds of artists from around the world submit designs for them; just a handful are chosen. The hotel also features more basic rooms of three standard designs, all magical in their own way. The hotel’s superstructure is created of “snice”, a combination of super cold snow and ice blasted over a temporary frame. Inside, it appears white. The ice, on the other hand is crystal clear, and shimmers. If you look closely, in some of the large blocks you can find the occasional bubble or leaf caught within.

The Ice Hotel offers both cold and warm rooms but the cold ones are the ones to see and ooh and ah over. Our night there was definitely a cool experience, in both senses of the word.

This year the hotel is open until 12 April. After that, it is left to melt and return from whence it came, the River Thorne.

If you go
Zermatt Bacara
The Ice Hotel

Busy Town Basel

When I started this post, I don’t know for sure, but I had every reason to suspect that Richard Scarry got his inspiration for Busy Town from a Swiss city like Basel.

I loved Richard Scarry’s books—as a child, teen and parent. Remember Lowly Worm, with his little hat that, now that I think about is, definitely has a Germanic air to it, appearing on each page? In Busy Town, everyone is busy. And in Basel, people are busy in the same way.

Men at Work

Men at Work

On any given day you’ll come across mail carriers, bus drivers, painters, masons, plasterers, police officers, tram drivers, road workers, etc. etc., all working to keep the city running smoothly.

There are even work crews that clean the the bulbs in the street lights!

Another parallel to to Scarry’s characters is that all, Scarry’s pigs, cats and foxes and Basel’s people alike, wear uniforms appropriate to their task and occupation. The painters, gardeners, construction workers and sanitation crews have specific uniforms with special pockets and reflective tape. They also sport whatever protective gear is needed for the job at hand.

Swiss cities have special vehicles and machines for specific tasks, too: mini trucks that creep along walking trails for garbage crews, vacuum trucks to clean the tram lines, mail motorbikes, and so. Given that Swiss chocolate is so famous not because of the cocoa beans but because of the conching machines developed here, these specialized machine should come as no surprise. The machines and the people all work to keep Basel working like, well, clockwork.

Upon doing a bit more research into Richard Scarry, I discovered that he bought a chalet in Gstaad, Switzerland, in the 1970s and lived and worked there until his death in 1994. So there just may be something to those lederhosen-wearing cats after all!

Schoggiwegglis

Imagine large chunks of delicious, dark, slightly grainy chocolate nestled in a fluffy, milky bun: that’s a schoggiweggli.

These tasty treats were one of our first culinary discoveries in Basel. I may be what some call a picky eater, but in a bakery, in Europe, I’m as adventurous as they come! So when I saw this delectable looking thing in the case, I just had to try it. And try them some more.

yummy schoggliwegliEach bakery and grocery store makes their own version. My favorites, from Sutter, are fierce looking things, with ridges rising from the top like a dragon or dinosaur and a profusion of  chunky chocolate protrusions. The schoggiwegglis from Bachman, on the other hand, are more refined looking, with smaller bits of chocolate and a smoother shape. Not bad, though, not bad.

I’m not the only one who likes them. Even though I am sure bakeries turn out thousands of schoggiweglis a day, if you go too late in the day, especially on Fridays for some reason, they’re all gone.

Schoggiwegglis are particular to the Basel region. At the height of our schoggiweggli addiction (3 or 4 a week!) we were in Wengen and went into a bakery to get our fix, only to find that they had no idea what we were talking about. They had other yummy treats, though, that aren’t available in Basel, but that’s a different post.

There is a Sutter Street Cafe conveniently located at the Bahnhof, making a schoggiweggli treat an integral part of each train journey.  And making it a darn good thing I don’t commute daily!