Another year

Today I add another candle on the birthday cake. I celebrate with joy in a foreign land with the Man and friends who made a special trip here. I’m happy but I also can’t help but feel a little homesick; missing my little fur-kid and other dear ones terribly. Then there’s sinking feeling of a pile load of work waiting for my return when I head back to office Monday morning.

But since I’m in one of my fave cities celebrating my special day, I guess no better time to indulge and go on all out to treat myself a little with this all-time fave mantra of mine! >_<

Basler-Fasnacht 2012 : A Swiss Carnival that starts in the dark

When S from Scwingen in Switzerland invited me along for  the carnival ‘Basler-Fascnacht‘ (listed as one of the top fifty local festivities in Europe) happening in Basel, I knew I couldn’t give it a miss for this would be a fitting way to end my Swiss adventures literally with a big bang!

The Carnival of Basel (German: Basler Fasnacht) is the biggest carnival in Switzerland and takes place annually on the Monday, after Ash Wednesday in Basel.  It starts precisely at 4:00 am with an elaborate ceremony called Morgestraich and the carnival lasts for exactly 72 hours and, therefore, ends on Thursday morning at 4:00 am.

We were up all night catching the overnight train from Geneva to Basel.  We arrived into Basel at about 3.20am all blurry-eyed, but felt an adrenaline rush because the crowds were all in high spirits, and after finding a nice spot along the crowded streets, we were all ready to dwell in the festivities.

At exactly 4am, all the lights in the old town of Basel are turned off and the Morgestraich marks the beginning of the Carnival.  With the command “Morgestraich, vorwärts marsch!” (“Morgestraich, forward march!”) from the drum majors, all cliques begin to march and play their instruments.

Approximately 18,000 revelers participate in this grand carnival by wearing a costume with a mask.

Masks of clowns, cartoon characters, animals and public figures (politicians and other celebrities) are modeled.  I think some of the most striking masks I’ve seen are that of the pipers and drummers-cliques for it’s equipped with a head lantern.

The cliques play their way through the downtown by marching with their flutes (piccolos) and their drums.

A clique usually consists of a large Zugslaterne (parade lanterns) that are wheel-mounted or carried by 2 to 3 people in front of the clique followed by participants wearing the head-mounted Kopflaterne (head lanterns), pipers and drummers.

The cliques often follow no particular route when they march.  It is said that they often take the path that’s always ahead of them so it’s not unusual to find a path that crosses several cliques. If that’s the case, the clique simply waits until the other has passed.  Be sure to steer clear in the way of a clique as a spectator else you will be pushed away.  Happened to me and S as we got trigger-happy taking photos of the clique.

Also from 4 am on Monday, many restaurants and bars in the old town open their doors and remain open for the following 72 hours.

After watching the parade for about an hour, we decided to head to the famed Brauner Mutz beer-hall to sample some of the traditional Basler carnival specialties such as flour soup and Käsewähe (a quiche-like baked dish). There, we had to share our table with a group of guys who couldn’t help making fun of us when we whipped out our cameras to take pictures of the food.  S had to explain to them that we are doing this for our blogs.  Not sure if they understood but loads of laughter were shared amongst the group.

After the break, we continued to dwell in the merry-making by the marching cliques and explored the old town further while waiting for dawn to break.

As the kids marched on, one of them cheekily whipped out a peace sign as I snapped the picture.

The character ‘Chucky’ immediately came to mind when I saw this clique marched passed me.  Definitely sent chills down my spine!  Brrr….

I couldn’t pass this photo-op with this reveler from the carnival.  I mean, check out his costume!  Fun and naughty all rolled into one.

We were looking forward to the fun parts of the carnival that included the Confetti attacks but was later told that this would only happen in the later part of the carnival.  I guess if you do plan to make it for the Basler-Fascnacht, I would recommend that you stay in Basel for the full duration of the carnival.  In that way, you could participate fully the various parts of the festivities.

Thanks S once again for the wonderful gift and inviting me to join you at this amazing carnival!

Ornate Venetian masks

One thing striking about Venice during the Carnevale (Carnival of Venice) was the sales of ornate Venetian masks in most shops and carts.

It’s been said that Venetian masks are a centuries-old tradition of Venice, Italy and they are typically worn extensively during the Carnevale.  In the past, it’s use was probably used as a device for concealing the wearer’s identity and social status.

Venetian masks are characterised by their ornate design, featuring bright colours such as gold or silver and the use of complex decorations in the baroque style. Many designs of Venetian masks stem from Commedia dell’arte. They can be full-face masks (e.g. the bauta) or eye masks (e.g. the Columbina).

Be warned, if you intend to get the full-face mask (the buata), eating and drinking will prove to be rather challenging as you may find yourself tilting the mask ever-so-slightly for the duration of your meal trying to steal a sip from your drink or bite of food from the plate.

We delved straight into shopping of our masks for the Cavalchina Grand Ball upon our arrival.  Having to make a decision as to which mask to get was simply too difficult because they were all so pretty.  The next day, I spied even lovelier and ornate masks decorated with lace and Swarovski crystals that I wished I had gotten.  These ornate masks cost a little more than usual because they are unique creations from specialised Mask Ateliers.  A lady’s Columbina made of paper mache and decorated with lace plus crystals could start from about EUR 4o and the price goes up for a more elaborate design.

The masks comes in all different shapes and sizes.  If you do not fancy putting them on, you could always get one to place it on your wall as a piece of decor at home.

And if creativity is one of your talents, then I’d say get a plain mask and try your hand at designing your very own and original Venetian mask.  Plain white masks are a lot more affordable and the cheapest I’ve seen so far is EUR 1.99.

And it’s not all that boring for there are plenty of styles you could choose from, all you need to do is to add some colour to the plain white mask and viola!  You can be assured that no one at the Carnevale would be wearing the same mask as you.  🙂

And, just what we will be doing with the masks that we got for the ball?  Guess we’ll be displaying this in our glass cabinet when we return back to Singapore.  Makes for a great conversation starter should you come visit our home.

Lastly, if you’re ever making your way to Venice to attend the Carnevale de Venezia in future, here are 2 Costume and Masks Ateliers that are worth checking out:

Ca’ del Sol
Address: Castello, 4964, 30122 Venezia, Italy
Address: San Marco 267, 30124 Venezia, Italy

In search of the Truth

With only 1.5 days in Rome and this being our first trip in Rome, we felt a little strapped for time and we tried to squeeze all the sights into one full day.  I guess the fastest and easiest way to do it was to get on the ‘Hop-on-Hop-off’ tour buses that dropped us off most of the city’s major sights.

After stopping past a souvenir shop and seeing a replica of the ‘Mouth of Truth’, we went in search of the real thing.

The La Bocca della Verità – “the Mouth of Truth” is an image, carved from Pavonazzetto marble, of a man-like face, located in the portico of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome, Italy.  This sculpture was supposed to be part of a 1st century ancient Roman fountain, or perhaps a manhole cover, portraying probably Oceanus – one of the pagan Gods.

Legend has it that the most famous characteristic of the Mouth, however, is its role as a lie detector.  It was believed that if one told a lie with one’s hand when placed in the mouth of the sculpture, it would be bitten off.  We went in search of this famed piece in the Santa Maria Church which is also home to the supposed relic of Saint Valentine.

We arrived at the church to a long queue of students also waiting to put their hands into the Mouth of Truth.  In order to prevent over-crowding at the Mouth of Truth,  we’re only allowed one photo per person.  Instead of a solo pic, I decided to take mine with my fave gal.  Do note that there is a small admission fee of Eur 0.50 in order for you to have your hand placed into the La Bocca della Verità.

Cavalchina Grand Ball 2012

Carnivale de Venezia was simply I.N.S.A.N.E!!!  I didn’t get round to seeing much of Venice for it was simply too crowded!  More on amazing costumes that we saw at carnival later!  First, I wanted to share with you some pictures from the Grand Calvalchina Ball that we attended.

Remember this post where I was fretting about what to wear?  Well, I finally went with buying a long evening gown at BCBG.  Thankfully the sales were still on then and I managed to get the dress at a whopping 60% off the original price.  I couldn’t imagine paying full price for the dress, it simply was above and beyond my budget.  Pardon the pictures, couldn’t seem to be able to get a nice one for the lighting at the pre-dinner cocktail and at the event was simply poor.

Next up, the mask!  The choices for masks were simply mind-boggling!  I didn’t know which one to get, but I eventually settled for a rather simple and elegant one with black feathers.  Prices for a Venetian mask can range from EUR 2 and above depending on how elaborate the design is.

And presenting the Man’s outfit for the evening.  His mask was super fancy if I may add.

The Gran Ballo della Cavalchina or “Grand Cavalchina Ball” is considered to be the most exclusive and spectacular of the many masked balls and carnival related events that occur during the Carnival of Venice, Italy.  Held annually, at the world-renowned Teatro La Fenice or La Fenice theatre, the elegant grand ballroom is specially transformed into a masquerade ball for one night only.  The evening program also boasts a wide array of staged performances by period costumed clowns, acrobats and live musicians.

Apparently, James Blunt was performing at the event but no one in our group knew about it for we were tucked away upstairs having dinner instead.  Darn!

Having said that, many of our friends still had an amazing time.  It was such a grand affair and I had a wonderful evening just by looking at those elaborate costumes.  People really dressed up to the nines for this ball, some with costumes and some (like me) with formal wear, and they were up on their feet partying.  As for me, the walk from our pre-dinner cocktail to the Teatro La Fenice (approximately 1.8km) in my 3.5 inch heels really ‘killed’ me.  I was too beat to even stand when we reached to the theater, preferring just to take a back-seat for a good part of the evening.

And yup, your eyes are not playing tricks on you.  Traditional costumes are always safe but you could also go as a modern-day movie character if you fancy.  This guy from our group came dressed up as an Avatar for the ball.  I heard it took him about 5 hours to do his hair and then paint his body blue.  Whoa!  Now that’s effort!