Delicious world cuisine

Foodies, you’re going to love these next few posts. I’m just going to picture the best I tasted in each place.

Switzerland

Basel leckerli as recommended by my brother. Delicious sweet sort of gingerbread type things but instead of ginger the flavour is more orange zesty and a bit lebkuchen-esque. And they have a thin layer of what tastes like water icing on top as well:

It’s very difficult to be veggie in Switzerland, and nearly impossible to be vegan (well, I exaggerate, but it is tricky). There’s just too much cheese and cream and meat about! For my last dinner of the tour I did have veal in a creamy sauce with chillis along with the salad and chips:

Raclette cheese 👆🏼melted to order at the table using a little grill thing and then poured over new potatoes. With salad and gherkins.

Flammkuchen; a kind of very thin pizza with bacon, cream and characteristically stinky Swiss Munster cheese melted on top:

Chocolate orange cake at the convent:

This was a lovely aubergine dish in a Turkish restaurant in Switzerland. Apart from the dipping sauces I expect it was probably vegan. And delicious!:

Beer is what is drunk in Basel. Other drinks are available, but, well, why not? Apparently, the MacDonald’s in the centre of the city opposite the fancy town hall is the only MacDonalds that sells beer. Or at least it was a couple of decades ago when my brother lived here. I was going to investigate but then ran out of time.

I do enjoy a good breakfast/brunch. Since I arrived in Switzerland at 7am, I took myself into Zürich and treated myself to this delicious breakfast at a lovely old fashioned café. I particularly love Bircher muesli (usually consisting of oats and grated apple soaked in yoghurt overnight, with other seeds or dried fruits or fresh berries or pomegranate seeds sometimes added as toppings). This is the most pink Bircher I’ve ever seen! It tasted delicious though.

We had quite a few delicious meals at the convent, too, but it somehow didn’t feel quite right taking photos of them! There were a lot of spätzle based dishes (a type of pasta), and quite a bit of meat, and always plenty of salad or vegetables to go with them.

Farewell Switzerland

The last lovely evening of my world tour. I’m so grateful for time together with such special people. I can’t really imagine a better way to end three month’s travelling.

Here are some pictures from my last day in Switzerland today. By this evening I’ll arrive in probably a wet, dark and cold UK and I reckon I’m going to find it tricky believing that only this morning I was seeing this. What an incredible time of sharing memories, philosophising and enjoying fresh mountain air and incredible views. (And also learning some better techniques for negotiating slippy slidey snow!!)

From the train ride back to Zürich. Not great photos but you get the idea. I think my ears popped about 6 times on the way up and about 4 on the way down:

Snowshoeing

…in a white out! Well that was quite an experience!! Some of my photos would’ve been like this:

…if I’d bothered to take them. But then occasionally the mist and cloud lifted so we could see stuff. It’s really unnerving when you literally can’t tell that the land you’re stepping onto is significantly lower than where you were before, because everything is so completely white (even with sunglasses on)!

With the snowshoes it’s possible to walk on terrain you’d never manage otherwise. It was great to try a different method of getting from A to B than skiing or snowboarding (or slipping and sliding!). I can ski. Sort of. But I’m not confident, so was happy to give it a miss, as was Liz. But in today’s whiteout I don’t think skiing would’ve been much fun for anyone anyway.

The normally beautiful view from the flat was reduced to this this morning:

But undaunted, we headed out:

Thank goodness for the shuttle buses that pick you up and drop you off at stops all along the major ski and walking routes for free. I thought the snowshoes would be quite small, but of course the point is really to spread your body weight over a wider area. I felt like I was walking like a duck or something most of the time, but it really means you can enjoy walking with no worries about slipping and sliding everywhere or ending up stuck in the deep snow drifts. I’ve no idea how deep the snow was today. At no point did my feet or the walking poles hit the ground beneath it. I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere with this much snow before!

My last stop

Well. This whole trip has felt a bit like when I toured New Zealand with my Aunt and Uncle, and whenever I said “Wow!” at the view, Ken kept chuckling and saying “You ain’t seen nothing yet”. I have arrived in Arosa in the Swiss Alps for a few days with my good friend Liz and her husband Phil. You will not be surprised that I have pretty much spent the whole time here so far with my jaw on the floor. It even snowed especially for our arrival! Here are some pictures.

The bridge we went over on the train (one of several):

The view from the bridge:

And other views here:

Wiener Schnitzel:

And Capuns (a kind of Swiss version of stuffed vine leaves only they’re chard leaves, and stuffed with a kind of pastry mixed with bacon, cream and cheese, in a very Swiss cheesey creamy sauce 😋):

Farewell Riehen

To finish our time together Sr Delia and I prayed with and for one another in a beautiful little chapel in the convent. We prayed with an icon she had painted as well, which I thought was extraordinary, even though she was at pains to explain that it was just a copy.

Icons depict certain aspects of the character of God (or of a saint from church history) that the artist wants to meditate on. So they are not the object of anyone’s worship, but more like a window helping people to focus on some aspect of God, who is always bigger than any picture, of course.

The left hand side of Jesus’ face (ie the right as we look at it) here represents the suffering Christ on the cross, and the right hand side (on our left) the risen Christ. But what I noticed most was the luminous word of God. Perhaps because I’ve spent a while in this country with all the Reformation talk. The Reformation, at its best, was all about giving ordinary people access to the word of God (the Bible) in their own language, so they could read it for themselves and not have to rely on whatever the priests told them it said. Well, that’s my very “power to the people” simple summary, anyway.

One evening we’d watched In Pursuit of Silence (a documentary film I mentioned in an earlier blog post) together. In response, Sr Delia gave me this, which I am looking forward to watching:

It seemed a very fitting way to finish our time together to pray and commit each other to God, and also to pray for the communities we each belong to. It’s quite an extraordinary thing to pray for someone and to be prayed for by them. I thank God for that gift.

Mariastein

One of the things I have most loved about my time with Sr Delia have been our walks and talks together. It was such a gift to have a week to catch up, to muse about life and theology and all sorts of things.

On one day we took the bus to a little village on (or maybe just beyond) the outskirts of Basel, and then spent the day walking through beautiful countryside at a leisurely pace, towards this famous (at least in Switzerland) pilgrimage site.

I have no idea what these berries are called. 👆🏼 If anyone knows, please do comment!

We stopped halfway up a hill by St Anne’s little fountain and Delia shared this delicious anisbrötli with me (a kind of sweet aniseed biscuit/cake). Apparently it’s quite easy to make. Hmmm might have to try that!

And here’s the Church with the grotto underneath it that people come here on pilgrimage for. Much though I like the very simple unfussy Reformation style churches, it was kind of nice to see a bit more church bling here! I’m not quite sure how this church survived the Reformation without having all the bling stripped away. Presumably it was partly because it was in the middle of nowhere?

In the church there was an exhibition depicting the life of Mary by the Italian artist Stella Radicati. She made the angel Gabriel look pretty fit, I thought! And I liked that Joseph was taking responsibility for carrying the baby while the couple fled to Egypt, looking suitably worried:

Hundreds of plaques line the walls of the tunnel that leads to the grotto under the church containing a famous statue of Mary. People have sent the plaques to record their thanks for answered prayers.

I didn’t take any pictures in the grotto as the light was poor and I didn’t want to disturb the pilgrims there. But, as often happens to me in these traditional holy buildings, I found I felt more connected with God just outside, surrounded by beautiful views of the natural world than I did inside the building. I guess it takes all sorts to make a world, as my Grandma used to say.

We repaired to a local café where Delia persuaded me to try Vermicell. A slightly sweet dessert made with cooked chestnuts mushed up and then squeezed through something like an icing bag to make the worm like shape.

Visiting…another country

We decided to go to Colmar, which is in France, just because we could. It’s a famous little town in Alsace that’s very pretty and had begun it’s Christmas market already. We took the train from the French part of Basel station (having negotiated the completely different ticketing machine successfully, which took some time!). Then, when the ticket collector came round, we realised we’d failed to get the ticket stamped by the machine on the platform before we got on the train. Fortunately he was kind and realised we were not used to this system, so didn’t charge us double as a result (apparently the normal fine). Thank goodness not everyone is a “jobsworth”! The greater surprise to me was that at no point did we have to show any ID, even though we crossed a border. And no one inspected our bags. The ticket collector just looked slightly envious as he said, “I guess you’re going to the Christmas market are you?” (In French, of course.)

Colmar is very pretty. Here are some pics.

We had tarte flambée (Flammekueche) for lunch (a traditional Alsace meal, a bit like a light form of pizza, with bacon, onion, cream and cheese topping), and later on warmed up with du vin chaud in my case and a hot apple juice in Delia’s.

In the covered market, we saw this wonderful selection of breads and cakes…

…followed by the terrible disappointment of this “Big English” loaf. (Square, probably dry, uninteresting looking thing… but someone must buy it or they wouldn’t be selling it, right??):

We had a look around the natural history museum, which included some great information on the current threats to biodiversity, as well as some really extraordinary stuffed / preserved animals, fossils and other artefacts.

A mammoth molar:

Towards the end of the exhibitions we found some interlopers. We weren’t quite sure whether this was the result of a drunken night out by the staff, or some kind of test to see how many people paid attention until the end, or some mischievous prank by some origami experts…? 😆:

The last Christmassy view of Colmar:

…and the fabulous band that greeted us on arrival back at Basel station. I should’ve made a little video, but we were in a rush to get the next train home.

A Grandmothers’ day

As I had to do some washing, Sr Delia suggested we spent what she called a “Grandmothers’ day” in and around the convent. We began with a very late breakfast (yesss!) which developed into a fascinating conversation with Jessica, who directs the convent choir, plays the organ and does innumerable other musical things extremely well here part time, as well as working as a professional musician in the city and beyond. Jessica is British, but has lived here for quite some time. An incredible privilege to meet such a talented person and exchange thoughts on so many things about the music industry, the church, hierarchical structures, politics, climate change, you name it!

Later in the day, we went for a little walk nearby and then Delia taught me how to make beeswax candles. At one point while we were waiting for the wax to cool, we popped into the convent café for Kaffee (in my case Tee!) und Kuchen. When in Rome…

Basel (ii)

Basel Münster

Below, you can see a plinth in between the doors, where once a statue of Mary, Mother of Jesus stood. The statue was removed in the Reformation, along with various other more Catholic bits of decor.

If I remember correctly, below is the figure of St Martin (you’ve a Saint who shares your name, brother!), who in the story cut off his cloak to give it to a beggar. But apparently at some point historically, the people didn’t want an unsightly beggar depicted on the front of their minster, so they changed the beggar into a tree stump. So now St Martin is apparently cutting off his cloak… for no good reason!!

Here’s St George, slaying a somewhat puny dragon:

And here’s a figure representing temptation. From the front, he’s all good looking charm and friendliness, but behind his back he is full of worms…

Here’s the verger’s house just opposite the minster, where three of the sisters from Delia’s community work, offering prayer for people and various other kinds of outreach to those in need:

We admired some of the older stonework inside the minster. Some of it depicts Bible stories like this piece showing Adam and Eve and the serpent:

But we thought some of the other pieces were of more questionable provenance. Probably medieval fight scenes or from stories that do not necessarily have much to do with the Christian tradition. Although this minster was adapted in the Reformation, they left some of the questionable decor alone.

We enjoyed looking around the older parts of the city and then had lunch in a very nice Turkish restaurant, where I had the obligatory beer. (Not ein Grosses though; moderation in all things!)

We explored some beautiful courtyards and some of the historical buildings now owned by the university:

We visited the Jewish Museum, which gave some really interesting insights into the realities of Jewish life in Switzerland at various points of history. The significance and uses of the artefacts on display are explained by various Jewish people (of all ages including a young girl) in the somehow very Jewish video guide as you go around. (The people in the guide are sometimes quite funny and give the impression of always being open to debate, while stating some pretty harsh facts about how Jews have been caricatured and how they were treated at various points in history.)

This is part of a tombstone from the Middle Ages. Apparently a lot of Jewish tombstones like it have been discovered under the university buildings in Basel.

In another church near the main university building, Delia showed me an unusual icon, depicting the trinity as one being with three faces. You can tell this is a Protestant city by the fact that this precious fresco is in a room now used for the storage of tables and chairs etc!

This is the figure with three faces:

The line that extends from God’s mouth ends near Mary’s head in the form of a tiny dove, the sign of the Holy Spirit:

A well preserved historical gate of the city:

A shop famous for selling Christmas stuff all year round. It’s strapline is one of those incredibly long German words (presumably meaning something like “Shop that sells all sorts of Christmas stuff all year round”!):

Another view of the splendid Town Hall in the sun, and some other beautiful buildings in the main square: