Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Freiburg Christmas Market

This evening I met Mat at the Christmas Market in Freiburg, Germany to walk around.  He has been in Freiburg since Monday at a conference for work, and it ended this afternoon.  Freiburg is about an hour for us on a slow train/ 30 minutes on a fast train. 

I was able to catch a train to Freiburg right in our little town of Riehen, and head there quickly.  I met Mat at the end of his work day, and we headed out into the cold to walk around the market.

Freiburg is a beautiful city.  It was unfortunate that I only got to see it at night, but I know I want to go back and explore it properly when the weather gets nicer.  The cobble stones and stone inlays in the ground were magnificent.  It also surrounded by a small stream that was cut into the sidewalks.  Just really unusual.

We walked around the market for a few hours, and had some delicious food and sweets.  We did not come away with any souvenirs from this market (except what we ate), but we enjoyed looking at all the booths. 

We had an 8pm train back to Basel.  We boarded the train, and realized the train was not leaving on time.  So unusual for Swiss and German trains.  There was an announcement made, but it was in German, and we assumed it was announcing when the train was leaving.  There was a woman in our train car that realized we didn't speak German, so she told us that the announcement stated someone was stuck in the bathroom on the train and they had to wait until maintenance came to let them out.  30 minute delay expected.  We sat and enjoyed the warm train car.  The next thing we knew, the police came into our car and announced that the poor person who was trapped in the bathroom had died, and the train needed to be evacuated.  So sad.  We were easily able to take another train home, but it did put a small damper on the day.  We said a small prayer for that person and hoped for peace for his family.

Example of the stone work
 The little stream that surrounded the city.  Mat accidentally stepped in it
 Lights of the Christmas market

 Freiburg's Rathaus.  Look at those doors.
 Huge fountain in the city
 Gate on the outskirts of the city
 Our yummy dessert.  It was like a graham cracker ball with chocolate in the center and then covered in chocolate.  It was pretty fantastic.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Bern's Onion Market

Yesterday two of my new friends and I went to the Onion Market that was being held in Bern.  This festival is held only once a year on one day.  The history of the market dates back to the 1400s to Bern's Great Fire.  The people of Freiburg hurried to help the people of Bern.  600 homes were destroyed and 100 people died.  As a show of gratitude, the Bernese people allowed the people of Friburg to sell their onions in Bern from then on.

There were onions EVERYWHERE.  They were selling them to eat, but also as decorations - mostly braids with dried flowers.  Some of the arrangements are so pretty.

The market was huge - I cannot believe they put this up for just one day.  It was streets and streets full of booths and food and crafts.  We spent about 4 hours there and even had a chance to take in some of the sites of the city of Bern (the views of the mountains were incredible)

The trip to Bern was easy.  It is less than 1 hour away by train and an inexpensive train ride at that.  It is still surreal to me that we can visit these European cities during the time our kids are at school.

Marta and I in front of the market.  Marta is from Italy, and she is the most amazing person.  I am so glad I met her.
 Marta, me and Tiffany.  Tiffany is fantastic.  AND she is from Boston!  I am so glad she is part of our little group.

Beautiful church right outside of the train station
 A sample of the braided onions
 Cute little onion crafts
 Really large building in Bern - dates back to the 1200s
 View of Bern and the mountains in the distances

 Beautiful building near the River
 The river through Bern
 Clock tower in the city

 Bern Bear Fountain

 I ate two of these while I was there.  This is a quiche made of cooked onions and cheese and bread.  It was incredibly good.

 Look at those mountains behind the city

 The funniest part of the day was the large amounts of confetti that was thrown everywhere.  Apparently this festival started at 5am with a confetti fight and it continued through the day.  Kids were buying bags of confetti and throwing it on anyone who walked by.  And I couldn't believe the Swiss were making a mess!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Christmas Market Take Two

Yesterday Mat and I went to the Basel Christmas market to stroll around and look at the booths and enjoy the sites.  The kids didn't want to come, so we went alone.  We took our time and went through all the booths at both locations in the city.  We ate yummy food and bought a few souvenirs.  I look forward to going back over the next few weeks so eat more delicious food and celebrate the holidays.

A very large tree in the market square.  There is a hole in the ground, and they just stuck the tree down in the hole.
 This giant book was in the Courthouse square.  You could sign your name, or write a was really neat
 This tree is outside of the Rathaus
 Giant Pyramid as part of the Market.  It went around and played songs
 Our dessert.  It was dough rolled and then dipped in sugar.  Yum.
 My take aways from the market.  The mug is what we had our Hot Chocolate in and the mug was the souvenir.  The ceramic on the right is a replica of one of the remaining gates left from when Basel was surrounded by a wall.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Thanksgiving Food in Switzerland

This weekend, we celebrated American Thanksgiving at our house.  It took me most of the week to locate some foods that I could use to replicate that meal.  I was unsuccessful almost 100%.

Turkey was the biggest trouble. really wasn't trouble.  I hate Turkey.  Most of us do.  We almost always have ham.  Which.....I also couldn't find.

There IS Turkey to be found here.  Big, expensive 75 Franc (about $90) Turkeys.  And I cannot bring a turkey bigger than a KG (2 pounds) from Germany.  Part of the rules of transferring food over the border.

But we have two lovely little chickens that I roasted.  And I made cranberry sauce - since they don't have that in a can over here.  And we settled for Apple Pie because I couldn't find pie crust to make a Pumpkin one.  But my mom had brought us stuffing and I had mashed potatoes, so it worked.

Our first Thanksgiving abroad.  Next year I will be more prepared.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Christmas Market comes to Basel

Today is Thanksgiving in American, but here in Switzerland it is the beginning of the Christmas Season.  Christmas seasons in Europe mean large, incredible Christmas Markets.  We have been informed the Basel's Christmas Market is the best in Switzerland, so we had to check it out right from the beginning.

Tonight was the start of the Christmas season.  In front of Basel's oldest church, The Munster, they had a beautiful choir singing Christmas songs, and a tree lighting.  We had a great time.  The did a countdown and then lit the big tree, and at the same time, the lights came on in the Christmas Market and all over the city.  It was pretty incredible.

After the music, we walked around for a short time to look at the booths and food offerings.  We grabbed a sweet treat before we headed home.  Mat and I will be going back this weekend to stroll a little slower and hopefully buy a few Christmas items to decorate our house while we are here.  (We didn't bring our decorations from America).

Another new experience and a wonderful experience.  I was glad we were here to be a part of it.

Meet Me At The Melting Pot

Today I attended the last Newcomers session that Roche offers.  In this session, we learned how to make Swiss Fondue.

We had a really great time.  I am so glad Roche offers these programs to their new employees and their families.  Not only have I learned quite a lot, I have met some really terrific people that are now going to be life long friends.

Making the Fondue was a lot of fun.  We learned that Fondue started back in the 1600s when people used to sell the cheese to rich folks to make money.  Fondue was only for the wealthy.  They would melt the cheese they bought from the local farmers and have it with bread.

There are several cheese that the Swiss claim as their main cheeses.  At the top of the list is Grueye, and Vacherin Fibourgeois.  These are the two that the typical Swiss person will use when making Fondue.  Another popular cheese is Emmenthaler - but I didn't like it.  Typical "swiss cheese" (With the holes) doesn't do well in Fondue because it is a harder cheese and doesn't melt that great.  Tends to make fondue very stringy.

Another main ingredient is a very dry white sour wine.  They like to use traditional Swiss wine called Fendant.  If you can't find that - you can use Sauvignon Blanc.  Don't worry - the alcohol burns off, so kids can enjoy this cheese.  They like to add, sometimes, Kirsch for an extra kick, but our group decided against it.  It is a very strong alcohol, so we skipped it.

For the bread, you must have something with a thick and study crust.  This helps the bread to hold onto the cheese when it goes in the pot.  Otherwise - it just falls in the cheese, and the Swiss have a tradition, that if this happens, and you lose your bread in the pot, you have to do a silly dance, or down a whole glass of wine.  A favorite, easy to find bread, is Weizenbrot. 

Here in Switzerland - the land of cheese and CHOCOLATE, only cheese is considered fondue.  None of the Swiss I talked to have ever melted chocolate for fondue. 

The fondue was very easy to make.  We shredded the cheese, added the wine and garlic, and put it over the stove.  The fondue here is made in very heavy ceramic pots.  They put a small metal burner plate under it on the stove (and over the fondue flame once the cheese is melted) to protect the pot.  No - you CANNOT cook the fondue over the tiny little flame.  You will be melting it all day.  You must cook it down over the stove and then transfer it to the fondue station on the table.

The way you eat fondue is that you put the bread tightly on your stick, and plunge it into the cheese.  You rake your fondue fork and bread across the bottom to help keep the cheese from sticking.  (although, a lot of people like that crusty cheese that ends up at the bottom when you are done eating.  They call it the "grandma")

The cheese was delicious.  Hands down the best fondue I have ever eaten.  America?  You're doing it wrong.

Typical Swiss - you get everything you need ready before you even think about starting
 The cheese cooked down really quickly on the stove
 My friend, Marta, multi-tasking while she cooks
 Me with my friends Heather and Marta - who I would not have met with the help of Roche.
 Our finished product.  I ate my weight in cheese and bread
 After the program, Heather, Marta and I walked around the city to work off our lunch

Friday, November 17, 2017

Alsace France

While my parents were visiting, we took them for a day trip to France.  The Alsace region of France is on the border next to Basel - very easy to get to.  I decided to join Mobility car sharing (almost like a rental car place but you pay an annual fee instead of visit by visit) and rent a car to make this trip. 

I picked up the car early Sunday morning and we were off.  It was a 1 1/2 hour drive to the first stop we were making called Strasbourg.  I would like to say we had perfect weather, but the weather was terrible.  It rained very hard most of the day and it was cold.  But we made the best of it.  Every once in awhile we would get a break in the weather and we would be grateful.

In Strasbourg, we visited the Notre Dame church that is located there.  It is absolutely huge and ornate - just beautiful.  We decided to also have lunch ins Strasbourg while we were there.  I had made a reservation at a cute little French restaurant before we traveled, since it was a weekend and I was worried it would be busy.  I am glad I did because, since it was raining and a weekend, the place was busy. 

The streets of Strasbourg

 Kids being silly

 Notre Dame

Inside the church
This was a working, moving clock inside the church

 Le Petite France area of Strasbourg

 A lot of buildings were decorated for Christmas

We walked the streets a bit in Strasbourg before we got into the car and headed to Ribeauville to see the Haut-Koeingsbourg Castle.  What a GREAT castle.  The kids had a great time exploring the grounds and the building.  This castle is a medieval castle built around 1150 that was used by successive powers from the Middle Ages until the 30 year war.  Then it was abandoned.  In 1900 it was rebuilt

View of Alsace from the castle grounds

 Haut-Koeingsbourg Castle

 Alsace from inside the castle

 I let Finley hold my phone while I was in a shop, so she took a picture of a reluctant Cainan
 She also took my dad being a good sport despite the rain

After the Castle we headed to one last stop - in a small town called Riquewihr.  We drove the back roads through Alsace to get there and passed many a small French village - one more adorable than the next.  Riquewihr was a great tourist town with old style French buildings, small cafes and shops.  We will have to return sometime when it is daylight.  It was dark by the time we got there, so we couldn't full appreciate the buildings.  We did a little shopping and explored a bit, but didn't stay long.

What a great area.  And really beautiful.  There is another area in Alsace that I want to visit again soon (Colmar), but I understand we can reach that easily by train, so we will go that way next time.