I think it was a couple of years back that Becca and I went to the Winter Wonderland festival in Hyde Park. It was busy and expensive, and even after spending hours queuing, everyone had a very rushed, London attitude to things. Generic fairground rides and novelty gift stalls dominated the scene, and the smaller, more special market stalls were sadly understated.
The most logical idea for a winter break would therefore be to go somewhere affordable, with a more authentic Christmas atmos. So we went to Basel, Switzerland… A city far more expensive than London, well done us!
Making It Rain.
Do I have any regrets about going though? Absolutely not, because Basel was absolutely magical. But no one wants to read about how amazing things were! Let’s talk about McDonalds: the most accurate indicator of expense.
- Eastbourne 20 chuggets (chicken nuggets) = £4.29
- Basel 20 chuggets = 15.90CHF
Let’s convert Suisse Franc into Pounds Sterling. 15.90CHF = £12.60.
We learnt a little something about relativity this holiday suffice to say. However coming back home was amazing! You can get 60 nuggets for the price of 20!
Anyway. We quickly assigned rooms at the nicest hotel to ever have ‘budget’ in the name. Bish bunked with Liam, a perfect match since they both have a privacy complex when it comes to shared loos. Becca shared with Tristan, who opted to sleep on the bunk bed instead of the double because Becca stinks… I’m kidding. He’d be stupid to do that, everyone knows the smells rise and circulate around the ceiling… In the 3 person room, Tom, Roya and I played loud Christmas music and complained about the poor ventilation.
For the first couple of days we walked around the markets, of which there were many. Christmas lights were purposefully decked along every shop and street corner, making the whole city centre glow in a wonderfully colour-coordinated way. Let’s just take a moment to compare this to a festively decorated British house.
Market stalls all sold different things, with many peddling home-made crafts and food. A temporary miniature railway cut through one of the markets carrying a load of bundled up children, and just around the corner a couple of men were carving wooden animal statues with chainsaws against a winter wonderland backdrop. The smells of cooking bratwurst sausage cut through the usual Christmas aromas of mulled wine and chestnuts, all of which enticed me into spending every cent of my holiday money on food and drink. What really made the markets feel special though was the pace of things. There were no frantic shoppers or hurried business-people, just families and friends wandering aimlessly and slowly, enjoying the cocktail of festive sensations.
Just to live up to the Brits-on-holiday stereotype, we frequented a couple of very homely Irish pubs whilst in Basel. With ~£8 pints we weren’t exactly out to get sloshed, but it was so nice to just stop and catch up with everyone after a year of constantly moving life. Playing heads up on Becca’s iPhone was more rowdy than it had any right to be, and I may have only mentioned heads up to include this picture…
I also found my new favourite beer though, not something I ever expected to find in Switzerland!
Since we’ve decided to be friends with Becca and Tristan despite their disgusting vegan eating habits, it was a challenge finding places to eat out. On the first night they struck gold with a vegan buffet (very edgy); a place Liam immediately turned his nose up at. So we separated into 2 groups. Tom, Liam and I made up the carnivorous threesome, a phrase I can’t believe I just typed. We hit the (Irish) pub for some hearty English food, and watched Liverpool’s disappointing performance, whilst the others role-played as rabbits and ate vegetables. All jokes aside, when we went for vegan food on the last night I ate some of the nicest vegan food I’ve ever tasted.
It took a couple of days to beat the adventurous Disneyland resort attitude out of Liam. The trip to yet more markets in Colmar (across the boarder to France) was, ironically, the tipping point which converted him to our more chilled out not-much-going-on style of holiday.
The journey there was a little rocky. Roya, Tom and I nearly got stuck on the French side of the railway border, Becca got spat at by scam artists on arriving at Colmar, and the first impressions of the town were that it looked like Hampden Park… However, and this is a big however: Colmar is known for being a miniture Venice, and the old town was so heart meltingly beautiful that all first impressions were quickly forgiven. Prices were slashed in half compared to Basel’s markets (relativity lesson) and Colmar’s markets and decorations were even better! I’m going to let the pictures speak for themselves here, because words aren’t really enough to convey just how magical Colmar felt.
Keeping to our uncultured theme, we found a pub to wile away the time when everyone got too cold to wander, and our choice of restaurant was Italian–pats on the back all around there! Also my drink of choice was an Irish coffee: classy. However the wine we followed up with was French… I think…
A New Perspective on Holidays
We did very little in Basel. We did far more in Chamonix in 2012, but when you go away with such a large group of such good friends it’s often better to just chill. To eat good food, make stupid purchases, and bask in each other’s company. Now I’ve never been one to go away in December, but I can now recommend strongly that you save a bit of holiday for Europe’s fantastic Christmas markets. As you grow older and Christmas becomes less of a big deal it’s easy to lose the spirit, but this year I feel more festive than ever.
Whoever you are, and wherever you are reading from: have a very merry Christmas!