Glasgow day 1 (New Year’s Eve)

Here we are almost at mid-March and I still haven’t posted about our New Year’s trip to Glasgow. Bad blogger! I shall at least partially rectify that now with an account of our first day there (we arrived the evening before but only went out to eat and back to our accommodation, so nothing really to tell there, especially since I did not take a photo of the food).

So, New Year’s Eve. We woke up to rain, rain rain, so the decision was made to go to a museum for the day. The forecast said that it would clear up in time for the evening’s festivities, so that was alright. After breakfast and showers, K headed into town to pick up our tickets for the street party that night and some food for the next day while Jan and I set out for a wander through Kelvingrove Park  – which our accommodation was right beside.

On reaching our destination (the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, pictured below) we discovered that it was closed that day – although the website had claimed it was open!

Glasgow6

Instead, we headed to the Hunterian Museum, which is located the University of Glasgow.

How pretty do these pillars look all lit up?

We entered the stairwell that leads up to the museum and discovered a robing room. My university didn’t have one of those! (It didn’t look this pretty either. *Sigh*)

Glasgow12
Glasgow University

The first exhibition we saw was about the Antonine Wall, which was very interesting to me. It was the more northern and less famous version of Hadrian’s Wall (which of course is located in “my” part of England). The Antonine Wall was mainly turf and was abandoned relatively quickly, so not much remains. We then saw some stuffed animals in cases, an exhibition about Lord Kelvin (he of the temperature scale) and a medical exhibition, that was fascinating and slightly creepy. Some photos of the inside of the museum (plus one looking out the window, trying to be artistic):

When the museum closed we decided to head back to the apartment for a drink and to warm up before heading out for dinner. As promised, the rain had stopped by the time we went back out (hey, the weather forecast got something right!). We ate at Mother India’s Café on K’s recommendation – and I can now officially say she was right, it was amazing! No photos though… I was too busy stuffing my face.
Curry done, it was on to the Ashton Lane Street Party.

The food at the stands outside smelled delicious, but we didn’t sample any because we were so full of curry! We did enjoy drinks from a few of the bars though – interesting ciders on offer! Ashton Lane is a cute little street, and thanks to being ticketed it wasn’t too crowded. The Irish pub was pretty full, but for the most part you could actually get to the bars to buy your drinks, and the toilet queues weren’t too insane – no worse than an average night out. Overall, I can recommend paying the fee for the sake of a nice night away from the idiots who are just out to get drunk. However, a note to sponsor Heineken (not that anyone there will ever read this): THROWING YOUR HUGE INFLATABLE BALLS AROUND AT MIDNIGHT WAS A BLOODY STUPID IDEA!! They were actually quite heavy and they hurt! Not cool! Grrr.

The fireworks were nice though:

(Don’t try to take photos of fireworks though chains of lights… it does not work!).

And that was the end of day 1! Day 2 involved sun, a cemetery and lots of walking. Hopefully it won’t take me another 2.5 months to get round to posting about it…

 

My 2015

We had visitors over New Year who left on 2nd January, but now things are sloooowly starting to get back to normal (for a few days at least!) and I’ve found time to catch up on a little bit of my blog reading. I also have a number of posts still to write before I can start looking forward to what’s to come in 2016. For now, though, here’s my traditional recap of the year that’s just been…

January

We already knew that we were moving to Switzerland (although hardly anybody else did), so after our original plan to spend New Year in Iceland fell through due to the flights being so expensive, we decided to start the year in our new country. Midnight found us clinking mini sparking wine bottles on the banks of the Zürisee (Lake Zurich) before the offficial fireworks were set off at quarter past the hour.

Zürich fireworks show

I then returned to work, where I informed my boss that I would be moving to Switzerland. Thankfully, I ended up not having to quit because I was offered a telecommuting contract instead. Phew! I was then able to tell my colleagues, and finally announce the news on my blog. The rest of January was fairly uneventful, although we did begin the process of preparing for the move – responding to a few ads for flats in Basel and writing a cancellation letter for my Bahncard 100.

February

This month was mainly taking up with flat hunting – reading ads, emailing people, phoning people and travelling down to Basel to look at flats. It was a very busy and frustrating time! We did manage to have a look round Basel zoo on one of those trips though.

Basel zoo

March

In March, we finally actually found a flat! It was the 24th one we had looked at (out of 25) and was also the one with the most expensive rent, but it was also our favourite and to be honest by that time we’d given up being concerned about money. We just wanted somewhere to live! We signed the contract on Friday the 13th… not so unlucky for some! We then began the process of packing our entire lives into boxes ready for the removal men to pick up.

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At the end of the month, we had a leaving party, for which I made Toblerone cheesecake (yay, something crossed off my 35 before 35 list!), the removal men took away all the boxes and most of our furniture – leaving me to spend a month in a flat that contained a bed, a coffee table and two folding chairs – and Jan moved to Basel ready to start work.

April

Jan started his new job on 1 April and also got Internet set up in the new place so I could actually start working from home once I moved. In the meantime, I sorted out the remaining things that still needed doing back in Karlsruhe, including cancelling the Internet there and cleaning all the things! For Easter, I took a trip down to Basel to help Jan with some of the unpacking and furniture arranging. We also took a walk in the woods near our new home, where we spotted what I think was a mouse.

Mouse?

On the 26 April, I finally moved to Switzerland, but before that we did a beer tour of Karlsruhe with some friends. A fitting way to say goodbye to the place I had lived in for longer than any other!

May

This month saw me exploring my new home, in between unpacking more boxes and getting used to working from home every day! I also started the process of applying for my Swiss residency permit (including multiple trips to the Gemeindeverwaltung!) and joined in with Foodie Penpals for the first time.

June

June saw us exploring Basel some more, as well as taking part in a traditional walk around the boundary of our own small town. We also took a trip to Fribourg (also called Freiburg, but not the one in Germany) and I actually received my residence permit (Aufenthaltsbewilligung). Yay! I then wrote a post on how to move to Switzerland with a partner you’re not married to (just thought I’d throw that in there in case it’s useful to anyone). June always seems to be the month with all the long weekends, and 2015 was no exception, so we took advantage of that fact and went to Luzern and Mount Pilatus for the day. The top was mostly in the clouds, but it was still pretty great (but cold!).

Pilatus
View from Mount Pilatus

We also hiked from Sissach to Liestal on one weekend and on another visited a street food festival in Olten. Phew! A busy month.

July

In July, we took a walk to Mariastein Abbey, visited the beautiful church there and then walked to Landskron Castle. We saw bees there, which made me very happy!

Bee
Bzzz!

Jan’s mum and her partner came to see us for a day since they were on holiday close by. It turned out to be the hottest day of the year and it was waaay to warm to walk around much, but we showed them a bit of Basel. At the end of the month, I flew to England alone to attend my cousin’s wedding. It was a very brief visit, but it was lovely to see so many family members in one place!

August

Long term readers may remember that August is my birthday month. It turns out it’s also Switzerland’s – they celebrate their national holiday (Bundesfeiertag) on 1st August. So this month started with fireworks and Swiss flags.

Bundesfeier
Moo!

I spent my own birthday working, but we did go out for delicious Thai food in the evening. Later in the month, we took a trip to a butterfly house (where we saw real live toucans!) and some friends came down from Karlsruhe to belatedly celebrate my birthday with me. The day they were here, all of Basel’s towers had an open day so we went up the one that’s closest to where we live, Spalentor.

September

A friend came all the way from Luxembourg at the beginning of the month to watch the Lion King musical with us, and we also visited the Tinguely Museum with her. We finally managed to buy a proper ceiling light for my “office” – useful as the days were starting to get shorter! And I started my Christmas stitching to make sure it would get done in time. We also visited Karlsruhe to see Jan’s former choir perform at an annual festival.

Tinguely museum

October

Finally, a holiday! My first since I took a week off to move in April. We flew to England on 1st October so we could go out for a meal with my brother on the 2nd for his 25th birthday! We also attended three World Cup rugby matches, saw the “Wave” sculpture in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, visited Manchester and Alnwick (which I haven’t actually posted about yet!) and met up with many friends and family – all over the course of a mere 10 days! Having returned to Switzerland, we briefly relaxed before taking a trip to Germany on Halloween for the Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival.

The Wave

November

A lot of cross stitching happened this month! Apart from that, we went to Engelberg-Titlis for a day (blog post to follow!), took a trip to Karlsruhe for my friend’s flat warming party and, at the end of the month, went to Colmar for the day to visit the Christmas markets.

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December

I barely managed to blog in December thanks to all the Christmas card stitching I was doing! We also briefly went to Karlsruhe to watch Jan’s former choir perform, returning immediately after the concert because Jan was also singing with a choir that evening! The next day, two of my colleague’s came down to Basel to visit the Christmas market and the following weekend we went to Bern where we visited the Christmas markets and looked around the town (blog post to follow). This means I’ve now completed the “visit 5 Christmas markets” item from my 35 before 35 challenge!

Bern town hall

Christmas was spent with Jan’s dad and his partner, before we headed up to his mum’s for a few days on the 26th. While we were there, we spent an afternoon in Göttingen and for the first time I actually managed to take photos there! (That’s another post that will follow). We returned to Switzerland on the evening of the 28th, leaving us two days to get everything sorted ready for our friends arriving on the 31st. We all ate raclette together (when in Switzerland…) before heading into town to watch the fireworks over the Rhine… and thus, for the first time since we’ve been together, Jan and I actually finished the year in the same country that we started it in!

Basel New Year's fireworks

Overall, 2015 was a year of big changes and we spent most of it getting used to our new home and, in my case, a new way of working. We also managed to see quite a bit of our new country, which was nice. Tomorrow, we leave for England for a few days, where we will be helping my sister celebrate her 30th birthday, and after that I’m looking forward to relaxing for a bit and getting back into a routine before we start thinking about what 2016 might bring!

 

Celebrating Switzerland’s birthday

Saturday was the 1st of August (what? How did that happen?!), which in Switzerland means Bundesfeier or Swiss National Day. Supposedly, 1 August was the date on which the original three cantons, Uri, Schywz (which gave Switzerland its name) and Unterwalden (which no longer exists as a canton) signed the Federal Charter of 1291. Unlike in Germany, where Reunification Day is a solemn occasion, in Switzerland National Day means fireworks! Lots of fireworks! And Basel isn’t content with just celebrating on one evening… the unofficial fireworks display (unofficial in the sense of not on the right day, they were organised by official people!) was on Friday evening on the Rhine then there was a second celebration in the Bruderholz area of the city on the actual day. We attended both, but I got the feeling most people only went to the celebration on the Rhine… things were certainly a lot more crowded there anyway!

Our first stop on Friday evening was at Marktplatz. The town hall was all decked out in Switzerland and Basel-Stadt flags, there were food stands, and a Dixieland band was playing. We each purchased a sausage then ate it while watching the band for a bit before moving on.

On the banks of the Rhine, there’s a statue of a boy holding a fish (don’t ask me why!). Some revellers had decked him out in a Swiss flag for the national holiday:

BundesfeierLots of people go all out for the national holiday. There were flags, bunting and lanterns in red and white everywhere!

Bundesfeier

We found ourselves a spot next to a stand selling Basel beer (very tasty, by the way). It wasn’t too crowded there – the Mittlere Brücke and the opposite side of the river seemed to be where most of the crowds were gathered – and we could see both sets of fireworks. A selection of photos:

After the fireworks, we walked down to the next bridge, crossed over to see what was on the other side of the river (lots of loud music, cocktails and a much younger audience!), ate raclette from one of the stands there and then headed home.

The next night, we went to the official celebrations for Basel-Stadt in a field up on the Bruderholz. Our own town was holding its own celebrations, but we chose not to go as there weren’t any fireworks (the place they would have been set off was subject to a ban due to them being too close to the woods after the extremely dry weather we’d been having – ironically, it was raining when we left the house!). Being official, these celebrations involved a speech by the president of the Gemeinderat (municipal council), but also various forms of entertainment, including presentations by the Schweizer Tambouren und Pfeiferverband (Swiss drummers’ and fifers assocation). They were very good, with even the youngest performers keeping perfect time! The final group of drummers wore skeleton masks and played with fire, which was kind of fun.

In between drummers drumming and pipers piping, people in traditional dress danced and we ate yet more sausages. Also, I couldn’t resist the Swiss cows on sticks being sold at the cake stand!

After the speech by the official and the drummers’ final performance, there was a fire show then two singers performed what they called “a tribute to the national anthem”. I think the organisers had expected them to actually sing the national anthem, which is why the progamme for the events had the text printed on the back, but oh well! What they actually sang was something weird in English with one line from the national anthem in each of the national languages in between. Not what I was expecting! Then, finally, those who weren’t already standing out in the field headed over to the bonfire to watch the main event… fireworks! Actually, people had been setting off their own fireworks all evening (there was an official area for it), even before it got dark, but of course only “official” people are allowed the really impressive ones!

The fireworks went on for about 20 minutes, after which we headed off to find a tram that would take us home – we had walked across the fields to get to the event, but I didn’t fancy taking the same route back in the dark!

Yesterday, I read that there is also a regular fireworks display over the Rhine Falls on 31 July, so I’ve now decided I need to see that one some day. A fireworks display over the largest plain falls in Europe has to be pretty spectacular! (And by the way, if anyone would like to explain to this idiot what a “plain waterfall” is that would be fabulous 😉 ).

It’s Monday, so I’m linking up with Packing My Suitcase and My Travel Monkey again for the latest edition of Monday Escapes.

Packing my Suitcase

Seeing in 2015 in Zurich

New Year’s Eve dawned bright and sunny…  which was a bit of a waste really seeing as we’d decided to spend the day at the Landesmuseum (Swiss national museum). I did take a couple of photos of the building before we went in though, luckily. They ended up being my only blue-sky photos of Zurich!

In the museum, we learned a bit about Swiss history, including their policy of being neutral during the world wars and also the fact that the final canton only gave women the right to vote in 1990! (That would be you, Appenzell Innerrhoden. Tut, tut, tut!) There was also an exhibition of Swiss furniture and a whole section on archaeology. We decided to skip the special exhibition on Christmas cribs (nativity scenes) as we were all museumed out by that time and also it was closing soon. It was nearly 5 o’clock by that time and we hadn’t eaten since breakfast so we headed into the train station to grab some soup and a sandwich from one of the cafes there. We did 90% of our eating at the train station because it was the only place that had even vaguely affordable food (bakeries have fairly normal prices… restaurant food is almost double what we would expect to pay in Germany!). We then went for a bit of a walk around, ending up by the university which is on a hill and provides a nice view over Zurich.

 

Once we were back in town, we went for a quick beer then decided to head back to the hotel for a bit and chill before joining the festivities at the lakeside. We watched Pirates of the Caribbean, which Jan had somehow never seen before!

On leaving the hotel, we stopped off at Coop to buy some small bottles of Prosecco before taking the train back into town then heading down to the lake via the quieter back streets. I prefer not to have fireworks thrown at me, thank you very much! On the banks of the river itself fireworks were forbidden, which made me very happy! There were hundreds of food/drink stands lined up all along the lake, so before going to join the crowd who were waiting for the fireworks we grabbed a Glühwein and this:

"Alpler Rösti"
“Alpler Rösti”

That is Rösti – a Swiss speciality consisting of grated potatoes – with pieces of smoked bacon that was then covered with a generous helping of raclette cheese. Not particularly healthy but so, so good!! We then joined everyone else down by the lakeside. As twelve approached, there was a countdown and then the church bells all over the city chimed at midnight… that was the idea anyway! We couldn’t actually hear any chiming because one stall somewhere hadn’t turned off its incredibly loud music! Everybody chinked glasses (or bottles in our case… we don’t do classy), hugged, kissed and wished each other a happy New Year. Then, at 19 minutes past 12, all the lights in the city were switched off and the fireworks finally started. We got an entire 20 minutes of fireworks, set off from three boats on the lake. It was amazing! Here’s just a small selection of the photos I took:

Some of the fireworks formed shapes, like hearts and smiley faces, but it was difficult to capture that on camera. You can just about make out a face (upside-down!) on one of the photos above, though.

After the fireworks, the lakeside cleared fairly quickly. I assume people wanted to get into the warm! Although it wasn’t as cold as on the previous day, there was still snow on the ground. I finished my Prosecco (which Jan had been holding for while I took photos), then we walked around for a bit looking for some interesting food to snack on. We finally chose a stall selling Indian food, where we bought some delicious samosas and pakora. It was after 1 by this time and I didn’t really feel like going into a crowded bar, so instead we headed back to the hotel and switched on the TV. Not a bad start to the New Year!

35 Before 35: Progress report 2

Now that we’re approaching the fourth month of the year (eeeek!!), I thought it was time for another update on how I’m doing with my 35 before 35 list. My last update was in August 2013, just after my 30th birthday. Now, with 4 years and 4 months left to go, here’s how far I’ve got…

Number 3: Learn Spanish

After doing nothing for months and months and months, I recently started using Duolingo again. So far, all I’ve done is repeat the lessons I’d done previously to refresh my memory, but new words have been added since last time I logged on so it wasn’t all just refreshing. Better than nothing, anyway.

Number 13:  Read (or re-read) 50 non-fiction books

I’m really not good at reading non-fiction. No matter which book I choose to read, it takes me so much longer than reading a novel… I even read German fiction faster than non-fiction in my native language! Last time I updated, I had read 2 non-fiction books… now I’m up to three! I finally finished reading Crimea by Orlando Figes, a book about the events leading up to the Crimean War, the war itself and the aftermath. It ended up being quite relevant to current events… but I had started reading it some time last summer! Very interesting, but I’m so glad I’ve finished! Oh, and if anyone can recommend any books on Ukrainian history I’d be very grateful! The Crimea was the closest I found…

Number 15: Read 30 books in German

Last time I updated, the task was only to read 20 books in German, but I’ve been doing so well I decided to increase the number. I had read three German books in August 2013, and now I’m up to ten having recently finished Bis in den Tod hinein by Vincent Kliesch – a crime/thriller set in Berlin. You can see which other books I’ve read in German here.

Number 16: Spend New Year in Madeira and see the fireworks display

If you haven’t read about my trip to Madeira yet, you’re obviously very new to this blog 😉 For those who don’t know, the boyfriend and I spent New Year 2013/14 in Madeira… and yes, we saw the fireworks!

The famous Funchal fireworks
The famous Funchal fireworks

Number 18: Bake 10 different kinds of biscuits

Last time I’d baked one, now I’m up to three. Since August 2013, I’ve baked Honey Gingerbread Biscuits and Chocolate Brownie Biscuits. The latter went down very well with my colleagues!

Number 20: Attend a world cup rugby match

Not done yet, but the rugby union world cup is taking place in England next year, and I’ve already asked my dad to try and get us tickets once they go on sale.

Number 21: Read all the books from the BBC Big Read that I hadn’t before starting this challenge

In August 2013, I’d read six books. Now I’m up to 7… or technically six and two thirds. I’ve read 2 out of 3 books from the His Dark Materials trilogy! Currently I’m reading Middlemarch by George Eliot (also on the list) and not enjoying it at all! I’ve barely started though, so hopefully it will improve…

Number 31: Watch 15 films I haven’t seen before

I hadn’t even started this last time I did an update and now I’m up to a whole 5 films. Woo hoo! Two of them are thanks to my little brother (age 7), who forced me to watch Planes at Christmas and Thunderbirds when I went over in February. You can see what else I’ve watched here.

Aaaand that’s all I’ve done since my last update. I do have an idea about which biscuits to bake next, though. Stay tuned….

 

35 Before 35: Madeira New Year’s Fireworks

Number 16 on my 35 Before 35 list is to spend New Year in Madeira and watch the fireworks display (which got the Guniess World Record for world’s biggest in 2006). Since I did, in fact, spend New Year 2013/14 in Madeira, it’s probably fairly obvious that I also saw the fireworks 😉 But I thought I’d provide some evidence anyway…

You probably can’t really tell from those photos, but we actually managed to get an excellent spot! There was much less of a crowd than we had expected, and we were able to find a space next to the harbour wall right in front of one of the places where the fireworks were being set off from! (They were being ignited at three or four places simultaneously).  It was flippin’ loud down there, I can tell you! These next photos will hopefully make it a bit clearer how close we actually were:

They’re a bit blurry, but hopefully you can see that we had a clear view of the fireworks actually emerging from the explosive thingies!
It wasn’t the longest display we’ve seen (the one in Brussels takes that title – I actually thought those ones would never stop!), but a lot of fireworks were set off in a short time. One member of staff at the hotel told us 17 tonnes of fireworks were set off in 8 minutes! I don’t even have words for a number that big…

So, that’s another item crossed off the list and I’m pleased to say it was 100% worth it! If you’re ever given the opportunity to spend New Year in Madeira, my advice would be to take it (as long as you’re not afraid of fireworks, of course…). And for any of you who’ve ever spent New Year in a German-speaking country, I’m sure you’ll be very pleased to know that no fireworks were thrown! A few people had their own to set off, but they sensibly pointed them up at the sky, where they belong 🙂

Madeira fireworks