Put On Your Thong And Cheer On Your Countrymen

The Tour de France is known for the wild enthusiasm of its fans.  The fans are part of the spectacle.   Where else do you see people camping in devil costumes replete with pitchfork or dressed as Borat running up a hill?  I have never seen so many men in thongs.  As one of them explained to me, “we don’t normally dress like this, we do it for the Tour.”

Others dress like they normally do.  These guys might not normally plan to all wear same hot pink jersey.  Then again, they might.

People show their enthusiasm for the Tour in their dress.  This poor lady from Luxembourg had a cast.  She painted her toenails in her country’s colors and drew red and white polka dots (to represent the King of the Mountains polka dot jersey), yellow and green stripes (for the Yellow and Green jerseys that go to the overall tour winner and the leader in the sprint points).

Although the Tour de France is France’s premier sporting event, its international aspect is an integral part of it.  We saw people from:

  • Norway,
  • Luxembourg,
  • Denmark
  • Belgium,
  • the Netherlands,
  • Germany,
  • Switzerland,
  • Estonia,
  • the United Kingdom,
  • Australia,
  • New Zealand,
  • and the United States (although Boris and Natasha said that there weren’t as many Americans as there were during the Lance Armstrong era).

Having a rider win the Tour de France, is a huge boost to cycling in that country.  People become more familiar with the sport, it gets more publicity, people starts buying more bikes and riding more.  Australian’s interest in cycling and the Tour exploded with the success of Australian Cadel Evans who won the Tour last year.

We saw tons of flags we’d never seen before.  There were tons of Brits and we saw several of these three-legged flags.  We learned it is the flag of the Isle of Man, the home of legendary British sprinter, Mark Cavendish.   Undoubtedly, the Queen, Prince William and Kate are all Cavendish fans.

Someone else had a theory that the nationalities of fans on the mountain revealed something about how economies are doing.  Vacations in France aren’t usually cheap.  We saw tons of Norwegians (who went nuts for Team Sky‘s Edvald Boasson Hagen).  Norway is definitely not hurting.  The UK, the Danes and the Germans have some of Europe’s strongest economies.  Then again, it could have something to do with geography and when people have vacation time.

French rider, Thomas Voeckler, won stage 10 from Macon to Bellegarde-sur-Valserine.

How do Frenchmen celebrate a fellow countryman’s victory on a stage of the Tour?   With champagne, bien sûr.  We had to hustle to get to the next day’s stage so we didn’t stick around to see if they had thongs.

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Sweet, Let’s Burn Some Stuff – Sechseläuten

We joke about burning a couch when something good happens (like Michigan State winning the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament).   It’s not out of the realm of possibility.  Apparently Zurich, Switzerland feels the same way.  They celebrate Sechseläuten.  To celebrate the arrival of spring in Switzerland, they burn the winter in effigy (in the form of the Böögg, a figure of a snowman filled with explosives representing old man winter).

Sorry Mr. Snowman, but let’s face it temperatures have been getting warmer and you weren’t long for this world anyway. – From 20 Minutes

Sechseläuten is kind of like Groundhog’s Day. The time between the lighting of the pyre and the explosion of the Böögg`s head predicts the summer weather.  A quick explosion means a warm, sunny summer. A long, drawn-out burning means a cold and rainy one.  Even though Switzerland is known as a winter wonderland and ski mecca, locals (including us) hope for its quick end.  Earlier this week, Zurich burned the Böögg.

Not so frosty now are you Frosty? – From 20 Minutes

In medieval times, when the first day of summer working hours was celebrated in the guildhalls because during the summer work was required to stop when the church bells tolled at six. The rest of the year, they worked until dark. Who doesn’t celebrate some non-working daylight hours?

From 20 Minutes

Itinerary for Sechseläuten:

  • Sunday before Sechseläuten – children’s parade in historic and folkloristic costumes
  • Afternoon of Sechseläuten – parade of the 26 guilds (over 7,000) in their historic dress costumes, each with its own band, most with a sizable mounted ‘Reitergruppe’, and horse-drawn floats
  • Post-parade – ceremonial galloping of the mounted units of the guilds around the bonfire
  • 6:00 p.m. – burn the winter in effigy (in the form of the Böögg, a figure of a snowman filled with explosives representing old man winter)
  • Post-Burning – dinner banquets for the guildmembers (and their lucky guests)
  • Night – delegations visit other guilds in their guildhalls to exchange greetings, toasts, witticisms and gifts

The summer should be hot, if one believes the time the Booge of Sechseläuten took before exploding on the funeral pile in Zurich: 12 minutes and 7 seconds. The myth is that the faster the head of the snowman explodes, the hotter this summer will be. The average of the last ten years was around 14 minutes. In 2008, 26 minutes was necessary. – From 20 Minutes

What’s a holiday without a family spat?

The holiday is often within a week of May Day, a working class holiday.  Sechseläuten seems to be a rather posh, upper class affair. The proximity of these has led to various, ahem, issues.  In 2006, the Böögg was kidnapped.  Now, they keep spares… just in case.

Traveling Through History At Skansen, The World’s First Open-Air Museum

He’s been known to think of museums as a great place to nap, but enjoys the activity inherent in open-air museums.  Founded in 1891 by Artur Hazelius, Skansen was the world’s first open-air museum.  It is a great place to visit with kids, as big kids we enjoyed it too.  It was great to be out in the sun on a nice spring day and we saw tons of cool stuff.

The golden pretzel is the sign for bakeries.

How could he nap when there were fresh baked goods?

Skansen is a time machine.  It has 150 houses that were relocated from different parts of Sweden to form a medieval city.  Most of the houses have museum staff dressed in costume ready to answer questions, tell the stories of the buildings and giving demonstrations.  There are demonstrations on glass-blowing, netting, sheep-sheering, how to make bread, how to produce various handicrafts, etc.  We even bought coffee (coffee again, quelle surprise) from a costumed lady in a 19th century house.

The staff are one of the things that make Skansen so special They are everywhere and do a lot to enrich visitors.  In addition to the standard imparting knowledge, musicians perform folk melodies.  Dancers teach people folk dances.  Staff drive visitors around the complex in a horse and carriage.  People in traditional costumes walk along the streets and do traditional everyday tasks.

Skansen has a zoological part with domestic and wild local animals.  In addition to the normal farm animals, there are Scandinavian animals such as lynxes, wolves, bears, wolverines, reindeer and seals.  We happened upon them at feeding time  (around 2:00 p.m.).

Skansen is fun for kids, big ones, like us.

 

Annecy’s Venetian Carnival

Annecy, France is beautiful.  As it is an easy day trip from Geneva (or even an easy dinner trip), we’ve taken lots of visitors there.  While it is exceptionally beautiful in summer with the masses flowers planted throughout the town every year, it has gorgeous old buildings, canals and a beautiful lakeside making it  picturesque all year round and never disappoints visitors.

Last weekend, Annecy had its Venetian Carnival.  It is a logical place for a Venetian style carnival for several reasons:

  • Annecy is in the Savoy region of France.  The Savoy region was part of the Italian Kingdom of Sardinia.
  • Savoy borders Italy (as well as Switzerland).  Annecy has maintained a strong relationship with Italy and hosts Italian themed cultural events, including and Italian Film Festival.  It is even twinned with Vincenza in Venetia, Italy.
  • Like Venice, Annecy has canals running through it with ancient  bridges over them.  It is known as the Venice of the Alps.

Two weeks after the traditional Carnival, Annecy hosts its own Venetian Carnival.  Many of the costumed participants were in Venice during its carnival.  The costumes are similarly ornate, mysterious and luxurious.  Its over 350 costumed participants make it as large or larger that that of Venice.

Annecy has tourism down pat.  It is photogenic and people turn up in droves to capture the over 350 costumes with the town as a backdrop. Although its crowded, if you are patient, you will get a shot as the participants are gracious and are eager to pose for you.

I kept trying to get more natural pictures of them.  These are the closest I got.

One of my favorite parts was seeing children so excited and dressed up in costumes.  They were adorable and their enthusiasm was contagious.

Morgestreich, An Early Morning Parade During Basel’s Carnival Celebration

Basel, Switzerand’s Carnival celebration, Fasnacht, starts with the Morgestraich parade at four o’clock on the Monday morning after Ash Wednesday.  When clocks strike four, the entire city goes black.  When the streetlights go out, a magical atmosphere envelops the city and the tens of thousands assembled to watch gasp.

Lanterns are lit and fife and drum music starts to waft through the streets.  Masked marchers in strange, whimsical costumes, and large caricature heads form eerie processions through the streets.

Each group has their own costume, theme music and immense float-like lantern  (that requires four large men to carry them).

Some marchers carry colorful lanterns attached to the ends of long poles.

Floats and marchers displaying large caricature heads often lampoon regional and national politicians.  Many of this year’s themes were financial.

Although the streets are crowded, the atmosphere is warm, festive and mysterious.  At five o’clock the city lights come back on, marchers and spectators take a break and warm themselves at inns and taverns.  With all the bizarrely costumed patrons, it slightly resembles the bar in Star Wars.

Popular foods include: Basler Mehlsuppe/Carnival Soup (a thick brown flour soup), Zwiebelwähe (onion tart) and Fastenwähe, a caraway-seed pretzel.

Basel’s Carnival festival, Fasnacht, is one of Europe’s top 50 festivals and does not disappoint.  The atmosphere is magical and the experience unforgettable.

Tschäggättä. Tschwhata? A Swiss Valley’s Unique Carnival Celebration

Tschäggättä are frightening figures that wear furs, giant cowbells around their waists and carved wooden masks.  Every inch of the person underneath the costume is covered to prevent their recognition.  Tschäggättä walk the streets during Carnival waving large wooden sticks,  scaring and/or tossing soot (nowdays confetti) at their unsuspecting victims.  An unwritten rule, allows only unmarried men to do this.  Go figure.  Guys always try to arrange things so that they have all the fun.

It sounds like a rockin’ good time to me, but some may ask whyTschäggättä stems from a time when winter cut the Lötschental Valley off from the outside world during winter.  It was fairly isolated the rest of the year.  Like many rural places, the church dominated many aspects of daily life.   Local peasants saw the time around Carnival as an opportunity to let off some steam, an expression of anarchy and rebellion.   Or, it could come from the heathen tradition of scaring away the spirits of winter.

The legend of Tschäggättä describes them as wild men, thieves from the no longer existing town (but poorer) across the valley that would come to steal.  The thieves dressed themselves up in frightening costumes to create fear and aid in their larceny.

 

Escalade

No, I’m not talking about a giant SUV.  I’m talking about a pretty cool party. Geneva’s Escalade commemorates the Protestant city of Geneva‘s defeat of the Duke of Savoy‘s Catholic troops in 1602.
I’m not really sure, but these might be Geneva’s version of Paul Revere?  If you’re going to visit Geneva, this might be the best time to do it.  It’s a really cool festival that’s part spectacle, part party and very accessible.  You’re in the middle of it so you’ll experience it with all of your senses.  The sounds of drums and fifes echoed through the city walls, while the smell of mulled wine (vin chaud) wafted through the air.

Here’s the deal. Charles Emmanuel I the Duke of Savoy wanted Geneva’s wealth. Genevans wanted their independence.  Many of them were religious refugees and would have had no where safe to go if Geneva had fallen to Catholic France. They also wanted to keep their money instead of giving it to the Duke.

When the Duke’s troops attacked, grandma threw a pot of boiling soup over the city walls as they attempted to climb them.  She then woke up the city so that it could defend itself.  Pretty much, they celebrate not their city not being overtaken by the Savoy and not becoming part of France.

It’s historic in the best possible way.  They have parades.  The old town is lit up by people carrying torches.  They really did fire the muskets!  They were so loud.  It scared the heck out of me… and the kid next to me.  They fire cannons too.  People dress up in period costumes.  Some are even on horseback.  The Passage de Monetier, a secret passage in Geneva’s old town is open for only this one night.
How do you celebrate grandma’s victory?  In the most quintessentially Swiss way. Chocolate!  They make giant tureens (cauldrons) of chocolate with marzipan vegetables (to be like granny’s tureen of soup).  Stores like Migros and Co-op sell the “vegetables.”  I bet it’s really easy to get kids to eat these vegetables.  They also have tasty street food and (of course) mulled wine.

Children dress up in costumes, kind of like they would in the US on Halloween.  We didn’t see any risqué costumes like you do there.

The cannon was louder than the muskets.  Unfortunately, there are not enough occasions where shooting off a cannon is permitted.  If you can get away with it, it definitely says celebration (or attack). There’s also a race/run that takes place weekend of or preceding the night of the 11th It usually starts in the  Parc des Bastions, where the Savoy troops congregated before attacking the walled city, and goes through Geneva’s old town, before finishing near the start. It’s a big deal here and everyone gets involved; you’ll even see families and running together.   There’s even a youth race and a costume run.

*Escalade translates from French into English as climbing.

 

 

Happy Halloween!!!

 

Charlie Brown: Hey! I got an invitation to a Halloween party!
[dances happily]
Lucy Van Pelt: Is it the invitation to Violet‘s party, Charlie Brown?
Charlie Brown: Yes. It’s the first time I’ve been invited to a party.
Lucy Van Pelt: Charlie Brown.  If you got an invitation, it  was a mistake.  There were two lists, Charlie Brown.  One to invite and one not to invite.  You must have been put on the wrong list.

We were invited to a fantastic Halloween party this weekend (the explanation for the invitation is above).   The hostess with the mostest made “scary food” that was very tasty.

Lady J’s Coconut Macarons
Lady J’s Black Truffle Macarons
They also requested people send in old photos of themselves in costume.  This made for a very entertaining slide show that ran all evening.  In addition to embarrassing shots of ourselves (which I won’t be posting) I sent a cute one of the pups in their reindeer costumes.
Costumes were encouraged and people did not disappoint.

It’s The Little Differences – Halloween Version

One bag’s worth of candy

Top Ten Ways Halloween is Different in Switzerland:

10.  Smaller bags of Halloween candy.  There are 10-20 pieces per bag and each bag costs a lot more.

9.    You have to search hard to find the candy.  It’s not like the US where they sell it everywhere.  There are aisles of chocolate bars in the grocery stores.  Finding individually wrapped candies suitable for your Halloween candy bowl is another matter.  For example, I do not think it is appropriate to hand out individually wrapped candies containing cherry liqueur to children.

8.    Costumes are scary and supernatural-themed (witches, zombies, vampires, brains, blood, guts, etc.).  You don’t see nurses, TV/movie characters, famous people, cartoon characters, superheros, etc. The Rocky Horror Picture Show may be lost in translation.

7.    No trick-or-treaters.

Sally Brown:  Do I get to go trick-or-treating this year big
brother?
Charlie Brown:  Sure, Sally.
Sally Brown:  Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!  How do we do it?
Lucy Van Pelt:  All you have to do is walk up to a house, ring the doorbell and say “Tricks or Treats.”
Sally Brown:  Are you sure it’s legal?
Lucy Van Pelt:  Of course it’s legal.
Sally Brown:  I wouldn’t want to be accused of taking part in a rumble.

I am Lisbeth Salander from “The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo“; he’s in Leiderhosen. 

6.    Halloween is not a huge holiday here so you get strange looks riding the tram or walking down the street looking like this.  I found it helpful to wish everyone who looked at me strangely a “happy Halloween”.  It usually elicited a smile.

5.    No pumpkin spice lattes.  We may have to bring some back with us.  I have become fixated on it.

4.    You might be disappointed with your Snickers after getting used to Swiss chocolate.  I suspect this aspect of reintegration will be difficult.

3.    No pet costumes.  If I happen to see a St. Bernard (or any other dog) in costume, I promise to whip out my camera and post it for you.

2.    Here, pumpkins are for eating.  It is hard to find carving pumpkins here and there are definitely not any pumpkin patches.  For that matter, I haven’t heard of any cider mills either.  Great, now I’m starting to fixate on apple cider too.

1.    No “It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” on TV.   Thank goodness our awesome family sent us the book.

Happy Halloween!  Eat, drink and be scary!