Last time I posted was over a month ago, and I was in the process of writing my end of year report for university – I’m very pleased to say this is now all finished and submitted! To celebrate with me, Bill flew out and we spent a fantastic weekend in Paris practising the art of the flâneur.
Being only three hours away by train, I don’t know why I hadn’t visited Paris already! When asked if they like Paris, people often claim that they love the city but find the Parisiennes to be rude – this was far from my experience, as everyone we encountered was friendly and very patient with my bad French.
Having never explored Paris before I was keen to take in all the touristy sites, and in our brief visit we managed to see a lot. We stumbled into the Grand Carnival in Montmartre, walked the Champs-Élysées, and ate an inadvisable amount of macarons.
After quite a few successive weekends in the lab working on my report, a trip to Paris was just what I needed. I’ve got a few months ahead of me without any uni work, so expect some exciting posts on the following:
- A super fun design collaboration with the excellent Versatyl & Pilgrim of New Street Records for their new single, Lessons/Underground Sound – follow them on all the social medias so you don’t miss it!
- Complaints about camping and snarky comments about all the acts I get to catch at Eurockéennes Festival next weekend!
- A guest post exchange with the fabulous ALMSEE, who’s fresh off the plane from Trek America – find out more about her travels on her blog!
- A picky vegetarian restaurant review for my follow chemistry student Greg of the brilliantly named new food blog Boy Who Eats – I can’t wait to get back to Birmingham and check out some of his recommendations for myself!
Of course you can also find the usual travel snaps and self-important ramblings right here – I’ve got two months left in Basel, so I’m hoping to explore the surrounding area some more before flying home to England! As usual, I’d love to here where you think I should go – I’m currently thinking Milan for next month – so let me know in the comments!
Combining my two interests of running from uni work and trying to explore a city in an inordinately short amount of time, last Friday I spent the night in Lyon for Day Three of the annual Nuits Sonores Festival. Nuits Sonores is an urban festival, taking place all over the City of Lyon during the Ascension weekend.
Knowing I’d be staying up all night (the event was running from 9pm-5am, so I decided to save on hotels and just get a commuter train back to Basel in the morning), coffee was in order.
When I arrived in Lyon it was drizzling, but luckily the nighttime events were taking place in the Ancien Marché du gros, a collection of disused industrial buildings which were lit up for the occasion. Despite being fairly central, they weren’t that easy to find, so the lava lamp visuals projected onto the side of the main hall were not only snazzy but practical too.
Having arrived at a time that most would consider devastatingly uncool (before 11pm!) I was there to catch Blue Daisy, who’s electro-rap stylings were going down very well with the crowd. (Though it doesn’t look very full in the photo above, the halls were huge!)
I was also there early enough to get some drinks tokens before the queues built up (and over the course of the night, they really did build up.) and to grab something to eat:
This being France, there wasn’t an abundance of vegetarian options among the impressive line of food trucks. Among them I managed to track down the fantastic Bão Kitchen who were serving up some tasty veggie bão – savoury buns filled with diced vegetables and smothered in sweet chilli sauce. I may or may not have gone back for seconds before the night was out…
Next I headed over to the third and smallest hall for the brilliantly named Jessica93, a post-punk one man band from Paris who was looping and layering some shoegazey noises and getting some interesting results. Hall 3 seemed to be home to the more eclectic acts of the night, as demonstrated by the next band, Future of the Left.
I had barely heard of Future of the Left before Nuits Sonores, and I demand to know why nobody told me about them. This shouty alt-rock band from Cardiff were the unexpected highlight of the night for me, although they weren’t exactly at home among the electro-house pumping out from the other two halls. They might not have drawn the biggest crowd at the festival, but it was certainly the most rowdy. The guitarist brought a number of bananas onto the stage, and one by one fed them to enthusiastic crowd members during the set. In this cut throat music industry it’s great to see a band that takes the time to worry about their fans’ potassium intake.
Next up was the act I had come all this way for – Public Service Broadcasting. Credit to Rosie for taking me and Bill to see them last year and getting me hooked. This was before their new album The Race For Space was released, and I was excited to hear some of the new tracks live. They didn’t disappoint. Along with some favourites from their debut album, they played Gargarin and Go! from the new album, both of which got a great reaction from the crowd and rightly so.
By this time the larger halls were starting to get really full, so I went over to check out Brodinski in hall 2. I loved his solo release, Dance Like Machines, so I had high hopes for his set. I was a little disappointed. This is probably an unpopular opinion but as one of the more sober members of the crowd I felt slightly unimpressed with the repetitive beats and lacklustre mixing, which fell short of being redeemed by the impressive lights, and the visuals dredged up from the depths of the uncanny valley. Some of his set is of course on youtube, so you can listen to it here and draw your own conclusions.
All in all, Nuits Sonores Night 3 was fantastic, and I’ll definitely try and head back for next year!
Were you there? Can you recommend any other festivals in the area? Let me know in the comments!
Last weekend I braved the night train to Berlin!
When you book a couchette on the night train, you get to sleep in a triple decker bunk. Well, “sleep”. I didn’t do too badly – I was really glad to be in the top bunk, and got a solid 4 or 5 hours sleep on the 10 hour journey.
The best thing about the night train is how early you get into the city – I was at Berlin Central Station by 7am! I certainly saw a different side of the city as a result. Walking through the Tiergarten at sunrise was a great experience. The holocaust memorials feel completely different when you visit them alone, rather than when they’re surrounded by tourists.
I’m the first to admit that my history knowledge isn’t the greatest, and in Berlin there are remnants of the city’s past everywhere you look; The Komponistendenkmal is still scarred by WW2 bullets (despite much reconstruction). There are pieces of the wall throughout the city, and Checkpoint Charlie is a major tourist attraction.
During the day, I managed to make it around a lot of the traditional tourist sights (The Reichstag, Brandenburger Tor, and Tiergarten, among others). I took some time to look around the Jewish Museum too, which is not only historically interesting, but is also a beautiful piece of architecture by Daniel Libeskind.
As any regular readers will know, I will take any excuse to go gallivanting off to a new city. The excuse on this particular occasion was a Father John Misty show at Heimathafen in Neuköln (an apparently trendy area of Berlin which is the title of a Bowie song) and it was 100% worth the journey.
I’ve been listening to his new album I Love You Honeybear on repeat lately, so when I found out he was coming to Berlin I had to go. The atmosphere was great – the gig took place in the Rixdorfer Ballroom, a beautiful old hall with an elaborate moulded ceiling, and a theatrical stage set quite low. Low enough, infact, that a number of young women had climbed up onto it while waiting for the show to start. A member of staff came to shoo them away, “you don’t want to be sat there when he comes out girls, he’ll be in your laps.” at which they retreated, giggling. It was a fair warning though – Father John Misty is certainly not shy…
The set was long and full of energy. Many tracks – notably True Affection – seemed to make a lot more sense live, while old favourites like I’m Writing A Novel had the whole room moving. His stage persona is part cabaret act, part Mick Jagger; he climbed on top of the drum kit three times that evening (I counted.)
This week in Basel it was Fasnacht!
Fasnacht is the spring festival in Basel – it’s a bit like Mardis Gras, and takes place a week after Shrove Tuesday. It lasts exactly 72 hours, running from 4am on the Monday to 4am on the Thursday. It’s INSANE. Some Fasnacht facts (Fas-facts?) I’ve been told over the last few days which I can’t confirm but sound good:
- 1 in 7 Baslers is an active “Fasnachtler” – Fasnachtlers are members of the marching bands which patrol the city in full costume throughout the festival.
- Some people stay up for the WHOLE 72 hours. (how???)
- Fasnacht is supposed to “chase away the ghosts of the winter” – the sun has been out in Basel this week, so clearly it works.
The official Fasnacht website doesn’t offer a lot of clues as to its origins, other than that, “the terrible earthquake of 1356 which destroyed large parts of the city and many official archives”, so there’s no real record of the festival’s beginning.
The profits from these badges help to fund Fasnacht, so it’s bad form to be seen without one. You can even buy a gold version! The design this year is based on the new tower at Roche, where I work. A surprising choice, as not all the locals are big fans of the tower; it’s set to be the tallest building in Switzerland when it’s completed, so it’s pretty big on the Basel skyline.
Before Basel Fasnacht is Chienbäse, which takes place in Liestal. “Cheinbäse” is the name for the bundles of pinewood which are traditionally set alight and carried through the old cobbled streets of the town.
These seem pretty impressive. Then you see the bonfires:
It gets pretty warm! The procession gets on for about an hour, with the bonfires getting taller and hotter until the whole street is filled with smoke. This happens the Sunday night before Fasnacht begins in Basel, so I left smelling of woodsmoke and opted to stay up all night for the 4am start.
Fasnacht in Basel begins with Morgenstraich.
At 4am on the Monday of Fasnacht, all the lights in the city are switched off, and the laterns belonging to the various “cliques” are illuminated. They then parade around the city into the morning, playing the traditional Fasnacht tune on piccolos.
The next day, things get very different. Large brass marching bands assemble to play Guggenmusik, often discordant versions of pop songs or standards (I heard the Pink Panther Theme A LOT). Waggis appear, showering everyone with confetti, flowers, and increasingly strange gifts – on separate occasions, I saw fruit, cuddly toys, scarves, cakes, lighters, cans of cider, leeks, potatoes and bulbs of garlic handed out. In my bag at the end of the day I had sheets and sheets of stickers, a white rose, a bag of popcorn and a lemon.
Many of the costumes and lanterns featured jokes, mostly about politics or social issues. Being written in the Swiss German dialect, the majority of these went right over my head. However, I think everyone can appreciate this topless Putin costume:
After an exhausting weekend, I was back to work on Tuesday – no 72 hour partying for me. Despite the rain, I can definitely see why the locals call Fasnacht die drey scheenschte Dääg, or “the three most beautiful days”.
As usual, I’ve been using my stack of uni reading as an excuse to go and drink coffee in pretty cities near Basel under the pretence of “studying”. This week, Freiburg:
Freiburg is a small German city on the edge of the Black Forest. I’d visited Freiburg once before, but on a Sunday; as with Basel, Freiburg is pretty much closed on a Sunday so it was great to see it on a busier day. Even if it was a bit grey:
The weather did nothing to deter the stallholders, however; the Freiburg Münstermarkt has existed in one form or another since the town was granted market rights in 1120, so a bit of rain wasn’t about to stop it. There are huge flower stalls, as well as vegetables, handicrafts, and all kinds of exciting food stands.
I even found a stall full of mysterious vegan treats! They’re made from nuts, dates, dark chocolate and dried fruit. I got a few to try, which went well with my coffee on the train home.
I spent the rest of the day exploring Freiburg. The city is full of beautiful cobbled side streets, lined with pastel coloured buildings and “Bächle” – tiny canals set into the ground.
All in all, a great place to get lost for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon. On the train back to Basel I encountered a group of Fasnachtlers who were already gearing up for the festivities, which begins this evening! I’ll be at Chienbäse and Morgenstreich tonight – any advice would be greatly appreciated!
It’s become a running joke between me and my housemates that I am the “artsy” one – cemented last week when I convinced two of them to accompany me to see Birdman at the cinema. I’d like to think I enjoyed it enough for all three of us? I asked around to see if anyone wanted to join me to see The Tiger Lillies this week at Kaserne, but in retrospect, it probably wouldn’t have helped my reputation..
When I heard that The Tiger Lillies would be coming to town, the name rang a bell – the Peacock & Gamble podcast used to use their music, so I’d heard bits and pieces. The bio for the band on the Kaserne website was in German, and running it through google translate gives possibly the best description of them you could write:
“the lyrics are not for the value Conservatives and wherever there is objectionable, they put it provocatively another. Bandleader Martyn Jacques sings about whores, junkies, pickpockets, murder, the common man’s life and all the smoke died sparkled figures in the world”
So there’s that.
I’ve decided I’m a big fan of going to gigs alone – go can stand where you want, show up when you want, and you don’t need to fight your way back to exactly where you left everyone if you want to go to the bar. Kaserne has a bit of a weird layout, and kept the audience in what I can only describe as a holding room until about 15 minutes before the band took the stage. In this time, I was approached by a guy from the local tv news who was covering the gig. I quickly gave up on trying to talk to him in German (I really haven’t made much progress) but he was undeterred and pressed on in English. The outcome of this is that there is now footage out there somewhere of me like a rabbit in the headlights (quite literally; Kaserne has pretty low lighting, so the camera had a huge lamp strapped on the front) mumbling about how I was excited to be there. The world is a strange place.
Tiger Lillies took to the stage and were faced with perhaps the most unusual audience I’ve been a part of at a gig. People drink WINE at gigs here – I can’t imagine ordering a glass of red wine at a gig in Birmingham. And right down the front was a kid with his parents who couldn’t have been much older than ten. Now seems like a good time to point out that a LOT of The Tiger Lillies’ songs are about drug abuse, prostitutes, and dead babies. This is not an exaggeration:
I don’t know how much English your average swiss ten-year-old has under his belt, but I’m pretty sure he got the jist.
No one in the audience seemed the slightest bit phased by the content of their songs, though. The Tiger Lillies have been gigging hard for a pretty long time, and it shows – they are a really tight band live, and use everything at their disposal to give a great performance. (Think props, masks, and the occasional over-enthusiastic audience member). They mix up the instruments a fair bit too – they’re a three piece band, but the stage was full of instruments, including a piano, drums, double bass, guitar, accordion, ukelele, theremin and musical saw. The latter was a highlight for me.
Perhaps down to the diverse audience and unpredictable performance, but the atmosphere was fantastic. Basel is gearing up for Fasnacht right now, so Tiger Lillies with all their greasepaint and circus vibes seemed to fit right in. After a brilliant (and long!) evening, the band were hanging out right outside, and were kind enough to pose for a photo:
Second from the left in this picture is Kimmy, who isn’t in the band – we met in the audience! She’s staying in Alsace on study abroad from university in DC, and heard my English accent a mile off. Just shows how international Basel can be.
In a few weeks I’ll be off to Berlin to see Father John Misty – any suggestions for what I should do while I’m there?
Since coming back to Basel after the Christmas break, I’ve realised that I need to find some more time for my University course. My physical chemistry exam is only weeks away, and I’m the first to admit that it isn’t my strong point!
This means a lot of sitting down and reading through notes. On the plus side, I find trains a great place to read, and I live right near Basel SBB station. So, I’ve been taking advantage of this excuse to do some exploring!
Last weekend I made my way to Mulhouse, which is only a half hour trip across the border into Alsace. I’d been advised by a coworker not to, “waste time visiting Mulhouse”, so my hopes weren’t high – it’s just so close that it seemed silly not to visit. However, I was pleasantly surprised! Mulhouse has some great architecture, including the gothic Temple Saint-Étienne or “Cathédrale de Mulhouse” right in the centre of the City.
Just across the square from this is the Rothüss, or city hall – a great pink Renaissance style building covered in paintings. Hung in the doorway of this usually flamboyant building was a sobering sign, reading, “Je Suis Charlie“. These signs could be seen in the windows of businesses all over the city; I was there on the 10th of January, only a few days after the Paris attack, and the events had cleary resonated throughout the country.
After a few hours wandering around the city, I found a great little café where I settled down to get some reading done – I had to do something to maintain the idea that I was getting some uni work done. Everyone has different ways of studying, and for me environment makes a huge difference – I can never get anything done in my own flat. Great coffee and pain au chocolat is a big help, too ;)
A week later, and I decided to visit Bern. The train there stopped in Olten, which was excitingly snowy. The Swiss of course are used to a bit of snow – everything still works, nothing shuts, and the news doesn’t devote 90% of it’s attention to weather reporting. However, as a Brit I can’t help but think it’s a big deal whenever it happens.
In Bern itself it was a little more rainy than snowy, but still pretty cold! There’s so much to see in the city, and the old covered walkways offered some shelter. I feel a bit like cities in Switzerland offer a lot more independent shops and small chains than British high streets, which makes shopping much more interesting. I found a branch of Fizzen, a really cute clothes shop that has a few shops across Switzerland. I also managed to make some great additions to my ever expanding postcard collection!
Do you have any suggestions for where I should go next? Or any great study tips? Let me know in the comments!
The Basel music scene doesn’t compare to Birmingham very favourably, so I was super keen when I found out that electro-folk dream boy Patrick Wolf was coming to town! I snapped up a ticket as soon as the posters showed up around town, and was lucky enough to get the last front row seat.
The evening was a benefit for World Aids Day 2014. As such, it started with a speech which appeared to be at once both funny and moving. I say, “appeared to be” because, as regular readers may remember, my German isn’t up to much. Following this we were ushered into the venue where I quickly found my seat at the front. I proceeded to excitedly send pictures of my view of the empty stage to politely interested friends before realising that the place was packed out. Basel may not have a whole lot of live music, but people show up for it when it happens!]
Patrick Wolf took the stage alone to applause from the house; he clearly has a fan base here, and after his first song it was clear why. Those who know his work will be familiar with his distinctive voice. And for those who don’t:
It’s fair to say that live, his performances are on another level. A solo performer, Wolf makes great use of loop pedals to reimagine his studio works using violin, harp, piano, and guitars to build the tracks up piece by piece. However, relying on technology like this comes with risks. After a fantastic arrangement of Wind In The Wires, he started getting some pretty major feedback, and the sound team weren’t able to fix it. The rest of the set was unfortunately plagued with technical problems, but Wolf was more than able to charm his way through with talk of Virginia Woolf, Ghostbusters, and why he would like to be a pigeon for the day. His open and understated presence gave the concert a very intimate feel (following the ballad Enchanted, Wolf mused “I wrote this song at a time when I was drinking two bottles of Baileys a day”) which more than made up for the issues with the tech.
I was told that I couldn’t miss this show by my long suffering bff Drum, who’s seen Patrick Wolf before and likens it to some kind of glittery electro-folk religious experience. I was not disappointed.
It’s been a while!
Apologies for the silence – wifi at my new apartment is ropey etc etc EXCUSES. But, I’m here! I’ve just finished my first month at my new job, so I guess that makes me pretty much fully integrated.
Except that I speak about 10 words of German, and precisely 1 word of Swiss-German.
This evening at the supermarket a siren went off, they evacuated everyone (“Raus! Raus!”) and a bunch of emergency services turned up. About five minutes later, the fire engines and police cars drove away. They let everyone back into the shop. A bit more German would have been handy in this situation I think! I’m going to assume it was a false alarm, but I’d have a much better story to tell if I’d understood anyone..
Nonetheless! Here are my top 5 German words:
- Kichererbsen – Chickpea. But, literally “giggle pea”. I’d like to say this has been useful – even in my households quest to find hummus in Swiss supermarkets – but it really hasn’t.
- Bluesliebehaber – A blues enthusiast or “blues-love-haver”. I found this gem on a poster for Luzern Blues Festival. Compound words are the way forward, seriously. I’ve tried telling people I’m vegetarian by claiming “Ich bin ein tofuliebehaber”, but I’m told that “vegetarier” is also acceptable.
- Kopfkino – “head cinema” ie. mentally picturing something. Is this also used in the nadsat language in A Clockwork Orange? I feel like it is..
- Naschkatze – “nibbling cat”. Someone who has a sweet tooth is considered a “naschkatze”.
- Doch! – An exclamation/response/adverb/intensifier that seems to be able to mean literally anything depending on the context. I know it’s used to express disagreement or doubt but beyond that, no idea. Anyone?
So thats pretty much all I have – apart from the word for every piece of equipment in my lab. Can anyone suggest any more reasonably useless German words (or even better, Swiss German words!) for me to add to my vocab?
Sorry for the lack of posts lately (this apology is becoming a habit I fear…)
BUT! I’m writing this from Schipol Airport in Amsterdam – true dedication in my opinion! I’m glad I’ve made it this far.
I flew out of London Heathrow this morning, and my flight made it into Schipol at midday (half and hour early – yey!), which meant I had plenty of time to explore Amsterdam itself before coming back to the airport for my night flight to Shanghai. This was a really great way to break up the journey – I’ve never been to Holland before, so I was glad of the chance to visit.
Schipol airport has it’s own train station, so after getting off my flight, I left my baggage in a locker and went down to the platform. They have DOUBLE DECKER TRAINS HERE – but disappointingly the one I got was a boring old single decker one. The trains are really frequent (seven an hour, I think?) so I didn’t have to wait too long for it, and by 1pm I was in the center of Amsterdam. I think I’ve been lucky with the weather today, it’s well over twenty degrees; luckily, I thought to apply suncream this morning, or I would have some impressive sunburn to sport on my next flight.
Despite it being a pretty touristy thing to do, I’d had numerous recommendations for the canal tours that run from outside Amsterdam Centraal Station, so I went for it. It was great fun! People are right when they say that Amsterdam, like Venice, is best seen by boat. The tour took an hour, during which we got to see plenty of the city’s distinctive architecture. Before the tour, I never even knew what a gable was – I definitely do now! The tour guide managed to be super sassy in three different languages: as we were going through the rainbow district, he announced in Dutch, English and German that “This happens to be where the gay people like to go out. The locals tell me that even the houses aren’t straight round here.”
After the boat tour I still had a few hours to wander round Amsterdam. I grabbed a cone of “frites and fritesausse” – when I have a better internet connection I’ll upload photos of some of the joys I came across!
So, after a super fun afternoon, I’m hanging round in Schipol Airport (which is the coolest airport ever, by the way) until my eleven hour flight to Shanghai at 9:30pm. I’ve made it this far – next time you hear from me, I should be at my hotel!
Did I miss out on anything exciting in my afternoon in Holland? Let me know in the comments!