Wednesday, October 30, 2013

a day in the basler herbstmesse

note: this is the third of a series of posts I'm writing about Switzerland and the places I've been. Solely for the purpose of having fun (and to exercise my travel writing skills) I'm going to write about it in second person. Which means you, the reader, are semi-virtually coming with me. bring good shoes.

No one in Basel has really been able to describe Herbstmesse to you... apparently it's not exactly like anything that we have in America, besides which it only exists in Basel so there is nothing to compare it to in
the other Swiss cities. What you have managed to glean from the various stories is threefold:
1) Herbstmesse is a mixture of carnival, market, tourist attraction, historical celebration, and fair.
2) Herbstmesse is exclusive. Kääskiechli, Rosenküchlein, Messmogge, the Riesenrad... apparently all of them can be found at the Herbstmesse, and only at the Herbstmesse.
3) Herbstmesse is something to which you absolutely, positively, without a doubt, must go.
And so, on Saturday morning, you dutifully lace up your sneakers, grab your camera, and step out the door. You are on an exploration.

Riding a tram into the heart of Basel, you have plenty of time to look around and observe the differences. At first glance, there aren't that many-- it's a normal Saturday afternoon with people and cars and trams ferrying everyone back and forth through the city-- but then you look harder. And you notice the amount of people.

Saturdays are always fairly busy, because most stores in Switzerland are closed on Sundays and that only really leaves Saturday to get weekend-type-things done. But today is CRAZY. There are people everywhere, in the train station and in the grocery store and in the middle of the street (which makes the trams considerably slower, as they have to slow down for every Swiss person who decides to walk over the tram tracks).

As you near your first stop (Barfüsserplatz, for those of you who know Basel), the reason for all the people becomes clearer. There are amusement park rides and cotton candy stands and everything that would normally be at a carnival, except Swiss-ified. This is wonderful when it comes to the food (little cheese pies fresh out of the oven? Yes please!) but not so wonderful when it comes to the prices (10 francs for a stick of chocolate-dipped strawberries? Um, maybe not).
There are multiple different places throughout Basel where Herbstmesse is celebrated. Barfüsserplatz sits in the middle of the city, hawking desserts and balloons and rides. Petersplatz has a market with a hundred or so stalls selling everything from jewelry to food to ornaments to candles. Claraplatz holds the classic amusement park rides, including one for 12 francs that swings you at a dizzying speed over the city. Munsterplatz has the gigantic Riesenrad (Ferris wheel) and can be seen from almost anywhere in Basel. Messeplatz is full of new rides and an assortment of foods. All of them are definitely worth the visit.

Officially, Herbstmesse doesn't start until 12 noon, when a tiny church in the middle of the city rings its bells. True to this tradition, none of the rides are running yet. There are ridiculously long lines of children in front of the biggest rides, because another tradition is that the first ride on each "Bahn" is free. They're waiting anxiously for a signal from the ride operator.

You, though, are looking for something else. And so you climb up the stairs that overlook the square and stand.

And then it comes. The bells... quiet at first, but then louder, more insistent, clearer.
Everyone goes silent for a moment.
Just like that, Herbstmesse has begun!

The rides hiss and clank to a start and the Ferris wheel starts to move and the other clocks in the city chime together and the children shriek in excitement.

And you wait,
listening to the bells,
listening to the rides,
listening to the people.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

days > 80 -- becoming

advice for future exchange students #14:
work on the same things as your peers in your host country.
if they take tests, try to take tests. if they take notes in class, try to take notes 
(even when you have no idea what's going on.)
in other words: try to adapt. try to live the same life 
that you would if you were a teen who'd grown up in your host country. 
it helps.

The days are going by so fast. I can't believe it's been almost three months since my arrival in Switzerland. One of the oldies [translation: exchange-student speak for the students who came half a year before you. If you're from the Northern Hemisphere, like me, these are some of the inbounds from South America and all the inbounds from New Zealand and Australia who came in January] mentioned that our newbies were coming in about three months. That's crazy. I just got here, like, yesterday...

things that have happened in the past 10-ish days:
  • One of the best things that happened to me this week was getting mistaken for a Swiss student. We had a substitute teacher and she didn't know I was an exchange student (e.g. I don't speak German) until I pulled out my phone to translate something... and I spoke with her in German several times before that!!
  • I've found that in the past month or so, I feel like my German hasn't improved. In the first six weeks it was getting better every day, by leaps and bounds, and by the middle of the second month I was conversationally okay. But now I feel like I'm staying at the same level, or at least not getting better quite so quickly.
  • That said, people are often surprised that I've only been speaking for 2 months, so hopefully I am continuing to learn. My host mom says that it's a fairly normal stage and that I am in fact better than I was before, so that's good. I think?
  • took the PSAT last week Saturday. Guess who dropped her calculator on the way into the testing room and effectively broke the display?
  • Other than that, the test was fine and I met Odile, an awesome girl who lives here (but speaks perfect English anyway because she's both American and Swiss.) So that was a highlight :)
  • I've also been working on my Swiss German. My understanding of it gets better every day, but I don't have enough knowledge or vocabulary to completely switch over. This means that now I speak an odd mixture of Swiss German and High German, and it's a miracle that anyone can understand what I'm saying.
  • Rotary!!! In the past couple weeks, I think we as exchange students have gotten a lot closer. It's funny because all of us are so different, but exchange seems to pull people together (whether they like it at the beginning or not). I'm really, really happy to have exchange friends who can understand what I'm going through (and put up with me when I'm being ridiculously stupid.)
that's all I'm going to write for now. bis später!

days > 70 -- appreciating

advice for future exchange students #13:
when you're on exchange, you have the chance 
to do things you've only dreamed about.
do them!!

(Note: guess what, I actually procrastinated enough to catch up with my 80-day report... sorry, these past weeks have been crazily busy, plus I didn't have much internet access in Austria. Anyway. That means that these updates are coming one after the other, and that my blog posts won't necessarily be in chronological order. Whoops.)

In the past month, I have been enjoying life to the fullest. Switzerland is amazing, Austria was amazing, and I've gotten to do things I never, ever thought I'd have the chance to do.

Exchange is awesome like that. 

things that happened in the last 10ish days (before the 17th):
  • Austria. Vienna. Need I say more? (Actually, I will say more, just because I can.)
  • Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook know that my host family and I went to a musical in Vienna... it was called Elisabeth, and it was absolutely beautiful.
  • I thought I had grown out of princesses and kings and crowns and beautiful castles, but apparently I haven't. The real thing is even better than the fairy tales. (In other words, my host family took me to Schönbrunn and the Hofburg palace. I think I want to be a princess when I grow up. :P)
  • Traveled to the Prater [big amusement park in Vienna], took a ride on the Riesenrad [really big ferris wheel in Vienna], and went on the scariest carnival ride of my life [story to come soon].
  • Ate my first official Wienerschnitzel! It's a flat breaded piece of calf-meat that takes up the whole plate and is eaten with lemon and salad. Sort of like a giant flat chicken nugget, actually. But that's okay, I like chicken nuggets.
  • Saw the white horses of Lipizza.
  • Developed a possible obsession with Empress Sissi. (If you don't know who that is, look it up.) History is way more interesting when you've actually seen the places, walked on the same ground, touched the walls of castles... all that to say that if you think you don't like history, go to Vienna and change your mind. :)
  • Went back to school. Mehhhh. (but actually not really, I'm sort of glad that I can see my friends again.)
  • Oh yes. I bought a CD from Elisabeth and I'm currently in the process of learning all the songs. You have no idea how good this is for my German. Anyone else feel like taking me to a German musical? it's educational!!
(to be continued, because I'm putting up the next post in an hour or so)

Monday, October 7, 2013

german for beginners
So. Seeing as I'm now two months into my exchange (today! happy month-i-versary to me!), I figured I should know everything about this language and how to become completely fluent within a matter of weeks.
Okay, maybe not. But anyway, I figured that I should post a little bit about what German is like for English speakers. Or maybe a lot bit, because my GOODNESS is German hard.


A Short Lesson on the German Language:
To start with, there are a lot of sounds we don't really have in English. This includes the Z, the W, the CH, and all the letters with umlauts: Ä Ö and Ü. They're complicated to pronounce, but don't worry, you'll get them. Hopefully.
The key is mostly to remember that it's not spoken like English. This may seem obvious, but it really isn't, and it's hard to remember. For example, a sentence in German:
"Hallo. Ich heisse Hannah, und ich kann ein bisschen Deutsch sprechen."
This roughly sounds like "normal greeting. (soundthatwedon'thaveinenglish) (verb, which you need to remember the correct ending to, no matter if they sound the same to you) (your name, which you should be able to pronounce), ("u" but not a hard u, a u more in the back of your throat) (soundthatwedon'thaveinenglishagain) (verb) (article that I think is wrong because my German grammar sucks) (anothersoundthatwedon''s pronounced differently in Swiss German than in High German) (noun that must be capitalized in writing, because all nouns are capitalized) (another verb)."
Oh yes, the verb comes at the very end of a sentence if it's being used with another verb OR if it's part of a dependent clause. You'll have to learn that later in German grammar, and boy will that be tricky. (I'm still not absolutely sure any of this is right.) But meanwhile, you've learned the pronunciation of a few basic words. Good for you!
Next, some vocabulary. Note that there are articles before each word to tell you their "gender".
die Frau (the woman)
der Mann (the man)
das Mädchen (the girl)

"die" is feminine, "der" is masculine, and "das" is neutral. In this case, it happens to nicely match up with the gender of the meaning of the word... woman and man. But take a look at the third example and you'll realize it's not, actually, that simple. Why are girls without a gender? I have no idea.
[More random examples of der, die, and das: das Kleid (the dress), der Apfel (the apple), die Katze (the cat), die Rübe (the turnip), die Krankheit (the sickness), das Buch (the book), and das Wort (the word).]
If you haven't figured it out already, the point is that the gender of the word is really not connected to the gender or the meaning. Or the spelling. Or the type of thing it means. In fact, the gender of the word doesn't actually have much rhyme or reason behind it. It just... is there. Plus, you have to learn the plurals with the original noun, and there are about 7 different variations for what a plural can look like. This means that you must frantically attempt to memorize everything.
To make things more complicated (this is German. Why would anything want to be simple?), there are four different forms of these articles: Dativ, Genitiv, Nominativ, and Akkusativ. This depends on whether the object being spoken of is doing something, being something, having something done to it, etc. For example, in German accusative form, der turns to den and the others stay the same--but in German dative form, the masculine der and neutral das turn to dem and the feminine die turns to der--which isn't to be confused with the "der" in nominative, which means masculine, not feminine.
Oh, and all the adjectives continue to change with these articles. So if a cat (die Katze) was blue, it'd be "eine blaue Katze" but if a book (das Buch) was blue, it'd be "ein blaues Buch" and if an apple (der Apfel) was blue, it'd be "ein blauer Apfel". At least, I think that's right.

Confused yet? And we haven't even addressed the verbs and question forms!

No wonder Germans are supposed to sound angry. I'd be too, if I had to learn all that. ;)

(side note: I don't actually find German that bad, although I suppose that the way I've described it does sound rather impossible, doesn't it? And I haven't even described half of it... That said, German is a really lovely language to learn. I promise. And hopefully I will be fluent at the end of this year.)


p.s. guess what? Swiss German is even harder!!!! :)

days < 60 -- accepting

piece of advice for future exchange students #12:
try, as soon as possible, to adjust to the life here and accept it as different.
just because it's different doesn't mean that it is bad,
just because it's different doesn't mean that it is good,
the only thing that it means is that it is...

This past week has been pretty up and down for me. I've discovered a lot of things (places, people, and stories) and some of them have honestly been great.
Others... not so much. It's hard to deal with the fact that life here is not what I've been used to, and while the transition so far has been fairly easy, I'm beginning to miss things from home.
Don't get me wrong, Switzerland is still amazing. And I love it here, and I'm not coming back before the end of my exchange year. It's just that this past month has been a bit of a rollercoaster, what with loving Portland and Switzerland simultaneously and trying to figure out how that works. So... yes...

things I've done in the past 10 or so days:
  • more traveling! Hooray for the GA!*
  • I've now been to all of ten cantons: Basel-Stadt, Basel-Land, Aargau, Solothurn, Zurich, Bern, Luzern, Appenzell IR, Appenzell AR, and Sankt Gallen. 16 to go :)
  • Today I am packing for our trip to Vienna tomorrow. Normally packing is a struggle for me, but seeing as I don't have very much clothing here, it's very fast and extremely easy. "Hmmm, so I need to bring two sweaters. Oh look, I only HAVE two sweaters..."
  • Oh yes. Did I mention that we're going to VIENNA tomorrow?
  • VIENNA!!!!!!!!!!!
  • AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • I'm, you know, just a little bit excited. ;)
  • I have discovered that the buses only run every hour on Saturday to my village after 6:56. Which means that if the train comes at 6:57, I am not getting home until 8:30.
  • I have also discovered that cheese and bread are the cheapest things you can buy in Switzerland. Since I love Swiss cheese and Swiss bread almost as much as I love chocolate, this makes me very happy.
  • Especially considering my next discovery: a hamburger at McDonalds can easily set you back 13 to 15 francs. And that's one of the cheapest places you can eat, according to one of my Swiss friends.
  • My friend Anni invited me to Solothurn with her host family. I wasn't exactly sure what we were doing (she said "bring hiking boots and a jacket") but I was happy to be doing something so I went. It was awesome... a midair challenge course through the forest climbing up to scary heights and swinging through branches at scary heights and sliding down from scary heights. Something a bit like Tree to Tree in Eugene, OR, except more exciting and probably more dangerous. Oh well.
  • As of last night, my family is speaking Swiss German to me. (I asked them to do it... I really, really, really want to learn Swiss German.) I understand a good bit, but I'm horrible at speaking. Hopefully this will change.
tschuess for now,

*If you aren't a Swiss Rotary Exchange student and you don't know what the GA is... it's basically a train, tram, bus, and boat pass that allows you to use all of the public transportation in Switzerland--for free. 
It is more precious than gold.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

september's lovely links

these photos of Zurich in black and white, part of the Zurich Film Festival this year, are stunning... but more than that, I love them because I've been there. I recognize that statue and this church and that bridge and even that carousel (yes. I did go to Zurich and ride a little-kids-carousel. don't judge. :) )

also, seeing as I've just visited Liechtenstein, I found this comic really funny.

top ten places for chocolate: notice that Switzerland is first on the list. I actually have a friend who went to the Cailler factory last week... so. jealous...

31 Signs You're a Third Culture Kid, from Buzzfeed. I'd actually never heard of the term TCK, but apparently it's becoming a thing now?

apparently we have a winner for world's most traveled man. wow.

Jeff Goins has written one of the best articles on reasons to travel young that I've ever found. It doesn't just apply to traveling, though--it is, in the end, an all-encompassing "shape up, youngster" type of article. In a very good way.
(and here's a short response to it that recently showed up on Huffington Post.)

put this on the list of "cool-things-to-learn-later": The Pig Latins of 11 Other Languages.

wait! another really good article!! And it's about life lessons! must put in lovely links...

Finally, I find this article hilariously and ridiculously funny. It doesn't actually have that much to do with Switzerland, or with exchange, but it was in Paris and it's the experience of an expat and I love it so whatever, here it is.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

days > 50 -- exploring

advice for future exchange students #11:
enjoy the fact that you're in another country. 
and go discover new things!
the rest of the world is not that hard to access.

the GA (General Abonnement, which means that you basically get all transportation free) is the best thing anyone could ever ask for. It is more precious than gold. :P
Lately I've gotten the chance to just explore, on my own or with friends, and I am loving it. Switzerland is very safe, very scenic, and very easy to explore by train and bus... which means that basically it's heaven for exchange students. I love that I can just get up and be on the other side of the country in 3 hours.

things that have happened in the past 10 (ish) days:
  • Appenzell: a place where all the houses look like gingerbread houses because they are ridiculously adorable. Also where people make cheese. I counted 5 times as many cows as people on the tram ride there.
  • St. Gallen: a place where the buildings are really tall and the churches are beautiful. I discovered the most lovely church in St Gallen... actually, scratch that, all the churches are lovely here. But especially in St. Gallen.
  • Zurich: a place where everyone is rich.
  • Also, we went to the Basel flea market! the flea markets in Portland are really small and not that great, but the Basel flea market was fun to explore :) I bought a pair of leather shoes that look new for 10 francs, and normally the same shoes run 200 francs or more... 
  • I went to the cinema (again) and watched a movie in German with my host mom and one of her friends. It was fun, and this time I actually understood most of what was happening. It's funny, to think of how much better my language skills are now than they were before.
  • School's out, schöni ferie zäme :)