Episode Two of Dating a City: Seeing the flaws, venting and book escapes 

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There is no doubt Basel is beautiful. In fact when I first saw the city I turned to my husband and said: “Did they make this place specifically for Instagram?” The River Rhine sparkles and the trees, the trees are the lushest shade of green and the tap water here seriously tastes like Evian. It’s cliché to say but Switzerland really is picturesque. However, a few things have started to bug me. Let me tell you about three things that annoy me about Basel and how I am dealing with them with my positive mantra, which is simply “be positive” (I’m working on it):

Annoyance number one : There’s no self-raising flour! Yep, searched high and low and thought I was typing things wrong into Google Translate as I was rummaging through the shelves of the supermarkets and pestering staff, until a British lady confirmed what I suspected was true. She saw my head shoved into a shelf of bags of flour at the Coop, cocked her head and raised her eyebrows before saying: “You’re not going to find self raising flour here. I have to get mine from the UK, they don’t have it”. I was shocked, a clairvoyant, I thought. Until I saw her staring at my phone screen which was on the shelf next to me. Now, you probably think this is a massive first world problem and it is, but venting still helps. 

Solution: I learnt how to use baking powder, two teaspoons baking powder for every spoon of flour. Yippee! If you follow me on Instagram (@gingerandbasel) you would’ve seen my jam drops. Super proud. 

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Annoyance number two: I can’t access online banking or pay my phone bill on the company's app. It’s so weird how much it feels like 1999 here sometimes. When I asked about paying my phone bill online or using an app, locals stared at me blankly. Turns out it’s either direct debit or wait for it… going to the post office. Young people pay their bills like my grandma and the Swiss grandmas can out run me in a marathon (okay, anyone can out run me in a marathon).

Solution: I had to pay my first bill at the post office, where I had to hand write things (throwback to Year 6) and then I set up direct debit (had to fill out a paper form, of course).

Annoyance number three: I have no mum friends at my children’s school. Yep. I said it, making friends in your thirties is hard! The mums at the school are lovely but they have their cliques. On top of that my children started school at the end of the year which makes it difficult to properly connect with other mums. Sometimes I wish I was kid so I can be like, “hey nice fidget spinner, wanna hang?”. Alas, I am a big person, and I know in time friendships will develop organically. Special shout out to my high school friend Celine, an experienced expat who gave me advice about how these things take time. 

Solution: I talk to my BFF (aka my sister every day), friends from Sydney, do yoga and read! All this time alone has given me time to read, which is nice.

Below is a list of books I have read or reread and recommend, especially if you’re into personal growth (the first two fall into that category). For all my busy friends, most of these are also available on audible. 

1.     Braving the Wilderness by Dr. Brene Brown. This book includes a series of anecdotes about belonging (very fitting for this post, I know). Dr. Brown is an expert in this field and her authentic voice makes it a great read. She doesn’t pretend to know all the answers, but makes you realise that there is power in vulnerability and that being authentic and kind should always be our primary goal. I love personal growth and am constantly reading books in this genre, many of them are patronising or too clinical. Brene hits the mark. She shares her academic research in a relatable way and although it took me three chapters to get into it, I am glad I kept reading.

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2.     Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis. Unlike Dr. Brown, Hollis is not an expert in the field of personal growth but she’s fresh. She is a mum in her thirties who has four kids and built a media platform. Hollis’ book is now a New York Times bestseller and the book is split up into sections about the lies many women believe about their worth, family and work. She debunks each lie through personal anecdotes. This book was recommended to me by a friend and I really enjoyed the take away messages, something her therapist told her: “what other people think of you is none of your business” and "nobody will ever care about your dreams as much as you do". 

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3.     Paris in Love by Eloise James. A friend of mine who is an author recommended this travel memoir. It is a series of vignettes about a family’s year in Paris. James’ posts are funny and uplifting and transport readers to Paris through vivid description. Although she is frustrated by the language barrier, the American author looks at her time away nostalgically and is grateful for how It transformed her family. Alone in a new city, but always together.

Love libraries! #reading #supportyourlibrary

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4. Confessions of a Domestic Failure by Bunmi Laditan. Author Laditon takes a humorous and often sarcastic approach to motherhood and pokes fun at the ‘Pinterest’ mums. As the title suggests, the debut novel is about drowning in motherhood but realising that everyone else is too. They just have better filters to cover it up.

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On that note, inspired by my reading list, this was my no filter, authentic post. Yes, Switzerland is beautiful but missing family can be lonely - but I'm not giving up, in the spirit of my mantra, I am working on it. I’ll get there. Slowly but surely. Until then, there’s chocolate, coffee and books.

 

Later alligators, 

Nomad Naomi

Basel Switzerland.jpg

Episode One of Dating Basel: The Awkward Stage

The school drop. Photo: Naomi Tsvirko 

The school drop. Photo: Naomi Tsvirko 

There is this scene in Gilmore Girls where Rory goes to a restaurant on a first date and her date sits next to her, not across to her, but next to her! Awk-ward! So Rory calls her mum, Lorelai, and asks for advice on how to deal with the date and her mum tells her to move seats and blame it on an air vent. Why am I telling you this story? Because if you’ve been reading my blog (hi Mum) you will remember I had this plan to date a city. I mentioned romantic strolls by the Rhine and candlelit dinners. Well let’s just say, I’m Rory and Basel is sitting next to me, not across to me (okay, maybe Basel is Rory and I'm the awkward one). So anyway, here’s how the first date went down:

It was a Tuesday and I dropped the children off at school and thought ‘freeedooom and must have coffeeeee!’ But nothing was open. At 8.35am. Nothing. I could not find anywhere to have a coffee near their school (nothing like Stanmore school drop offs). I took a tram into the middle of the city and strolled for ten minutes. Still nothing. Eventually I found this cute little café that looked open but actually didn’t open until 9am. By that stage, that would've been a 15 minute wait for coffee. Way too long for someone who gets those awful coffee withdrawal headaches, so I decided to go back home and then, bam! Right there in front of Marktplatz tram stop I found a bakery! I rejoiced, my first date with Basel was saved, and the sweets looked a-may-zing! In my coffee deprived brain I even heard that ‘Halleluiah, Halleluiah!’ song when I saw the window display, and i'm sure a glistening ray of light shone on a croissant. 

Strolls across the bridge, Basel. Photo: Naomi Tsvirko

Strolls across the bridge, Basel. Photo: Naomi Tsvirko

.Confiserie Schiesser, Basel. Photo: Naomi Tsvirko

.Confiserie Schiesser, Basel. Photo: Naomi Tsvirko

Annoyingly, there wasn’t anywhere to sit outside, but I took that as a good sign, a sign that the coffee would be great. I walked/skipped in and asked to sit down but the woman at the counter couldn’t speak English. She looked right through me. I looked around and there was an empty table facing the counter, I shifted sideways to that seat, maintaining eye contact with the woman to ensure it was okay to sit there. I must have looked like Mr. Bean as I sat down staring at her silently because she looked puzzled.

I sat there in silence for five minutes before a waiter walked out of the kitchen and looked startled when he saw me sitting at the table. “Grüezi,” he said politely but didn’t take my order, he just disappeared upstairs. I pulled out my notebook and tried to act ‘local’. Two Swiss men walked in to pay the woman at the counter. I watched on, envious at how swift and easy the transaction was. Finally, the woman took my order which was relatively painless, ‘a cappuccino and a croissant please’. She nodded, a win.

I devoured the crispiest, freshest croissant and best coffee I'd had since Sydney, and as I was finishing the last bite another waiter walked out of the kitchen and stepped back when he saw me, he too went upstairs. That’s when I realised the locals go upstairs! Turns out I was sitting awkwardly alone in front of the lady at the counter when I could have been upstairs where everyone else was being served. Arghhh. If you’re ever in Basel and want great coffee, the café is Confiserie Schiesser Basel and if there aren’t any seats outside, go upstairs. You’re welcome. (scroll down to read more)

Marktplatz, Basel. Photo: Naomi Tsvirko

Marktplatz, Basel. Photo: Naomi Tsvirko

Following this awkward alone date, I went to the Migros supermarket to get groceries because when you drop kids off at school it feels like you get ten minutes alone before having to pick them up (and when you pick them up they’re always hungry). I caught the tram to Claraplatz and asked three employees where I could find honey. Not one of them could speak English. I resorted to wiggling my index finger in a zig zag motion and began to buzz like a bee and repeated the word ‘ho-ney’ loudly. I soon had an audience of two staff members and one shopper staring at me as if we were playing charades. I continued to say the word ‘hon-eey’ as if the woman would understand if I buzzed or raised my voice. She looked beyond confused, possibly scared and kept her eyes on me as she called a colleague who could speak English. I was sent to level two, where I found honey and two security guards.

That night, I called my mother to tell her about the coffee date, she told me I should have gone upstairs and blamed it on an air vent, nope, that's a lie and what my fictional mother Lorelai would say. My actual mother told me to toughen up and learn German.

Date one. Awks. But I still like Basel.

Later Nomads,

Nomad Naomi 

.The view of the counter - Confiserie Schiesser, Basel. Photo: Naomi Tsvirko

.The view of the counter - Confiserie Schiesser, Basel. Photo: Naomi Tsvirko

A Swiss Affair: Making the First Move

Basel, Switzerland. Photo: Stan Tsvirko

Basel, Switzerland. Photo: Stan Tsvirko

The first spark: 

Sitting in a bustling Sydney café by the ocean, I sigh.

My sister glances up at me. “Don’t worry,” she says smiling soothingly. “See the move as a new baby. You’ve had two and you know it takes at least six months to get used to the transition,” heavily pregnant, she lifts her arm from stroking her cumbersome belly and sips her tea. 

I sip my coffee and take in the view of the ocean, contemplating what she just said. Then, I object: “No! A new baby means stretchmarks and sleepless nights. I’m not sure I can see it that way right now,” I say half-jokingly. “I want to date Basel. I want to explore the city and get to know it. Learn the language and embrace the culture, understand its intricacies and quirks.”

She smiles and nods.

“I understand having a side fling or love affair is stereotypically more French, but Switzerland is close enough,” I laugh. 

She half laughs, obligingly.

My beautiful sister. Photo Credit: Me scrolling through her social media account ...it's what younger sisters do ;)

My beautiful sister. Photo Credit: Me scrolling through her social media account ...it's what younger sisters do ;)

So, that’s how I really started to accept the transition. This Type-A personality had a plan, a plan to date a city, an image of candlelit dinners and strolls by the Rhine. I don’t have the luxury of an ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ journey, my marriage is too solid and I have two little ones in tow, so here I am taking this on as an exciting affair. 

The Honeymoon period:

I first visited Switzerland in the winter of 2018, I was on holiday and I vividly remember the train trip from Zurich airport to Basel. I had never seen snow so beautiful, the crystal white flakes embellished Christmas trees and dripped off pine cones. It was picturesque.

When I finally arrived in the city I remember thinking that it had all the European charm you see in the postcards and so much character. I fell in love with the architecture, the efficiency of the public transport system and the water; drinking fountains around the city constantly sprout fresh spring water. My daughter became a fan of Swiss cheese fondue, me, not so much. I did however love the Octopus salad at an Asian inspired restaurant chain called Nooch, go figure! 

A drinking fountain in Basel, Switzerland. Photo: Stan Tsvirko

A drinking fountain in Basel, Switzerland. Photo: Stan Tsvirko

Romantic strangers in Basel, Switzerland. Photo: Stan Tsvirko

Romantic strangers in Basel, Switzerland. Photo: Stan Tsvirko

My beach loving children were not impressed with the cold, but a ski trip, hot chocolate and chestnuts helped the entire family climatize. After a week in Basel, I was both sad and happy to go home. The city left a lasting impression. I was happy to return to warm Sydney, to return to work and see my family but in my mind, Basel became my happy place. Memories of strolling along the Rhine, making snow angels (I can’t ski…yet) and daytrips to France and Germany meant I saw Basel as a pleasant place, both quaint and nostalgic. 

Fast forward four months and my husband declares he has been offered a job in Basel. I feel perplexed, living in a ‘happy place’ defeats the purpose of its existence, because once you live in the ‘happy place’ it becomes a reality, a place of routine and responsibility. I was worried I would start to see the cracks…

Basel, Switzerland. Photo: Stan Tsvirko

Basel, Switzerland. Photo: Stan Tsvirko

Back to the ‘happy place’:

We arrived in Basel on May 17 and so here I am starting a relationship with a city and sharing it with you, because as every avid literature lover knows, a place is a character too. I will share the good, the bad and the awkward. It will be raw, honest and a bit romantic, ‘cause hey! I’m in Europe now. 

Apart from a few sharp dagger-like death stares aimed at me for eating pizza with my hands and one night of deep sobbing on a pile of towels in the laundry, I have enjoyed the move so far. 

Stay tuned nomads…

Nomad Naomi

The Rhine. Basel, Switzerland. Photo: Stan Tsvirko

The Rhine. Basel, Switzerland. Photo: Stan Tsvirko

My children in France. Photo: Stan Tsvirko

My children in France. Photo: Stan Tsvirko