Tag Archives: Switzerland

Able seamen

A while back I was amazed to see that a landlocked country such as Switzerland could win the elite world sailing race. Alinghi, a Swiss boat won the Americas Cup and I figured if they could do it, then Ireland, an island nation, should have no problems winning the thing.

I threw down the gauntlet then and challenged them with an Irish boat called Dinghi, fitted out with a jacuzzi, shag pile carpets and plenty of cup holders. It seems they’ve taken up the challenge:

America’s Cup postponed over row

The story claims it’s all about politics and race regulations but I have the insider track. Alinghi are not allowed the shag carpets and they’re throwing a tantrum. We have them on the ropes already!

Now all I need to do is plumb in the jacuzzi and get a crew on board and we’ll show the Swiss how to win a yacht race! 


Review of The Pinguin

Schutzenmattstrasse 21,

The Pinguin Bar is a real hidden gem here in Basel. Located quite centrally but tucked away in a small shopping arcade, it boasts 100 beers from around the world (and the largest mustard collection of any restaurant according to the Guinness Book of Records!). We’ve frequented this place before but decided it was time to go back for an official review. So, here are the votes:

Date and time: 30/10/07 around 7.30 – 10.30pm

Location and ease of access: Located on Schutzenmattstrasse, just down the street from the Spalentor, it’s marked by a small sign and a row of beer bottles above the entrance to the arcade. As it’s still in the old town, it’s well within walking distance of the city centre. 8/10

Beer selection and prices: You can’t get much better than this! The selection is extensive and presented to you in a comprehensive menu the size of an encylcopedia. You can get everything from African banana beer to open fermented Belgian beverages. It’s like a Willy Wonka’s beer factory. The prices are suprisingly reasonable, the only drawback is that the selection on tap is poor. 10/10

Atmosphere: Generally quiet due to it’s “secret” location, there were two or three other groups in there but it’s got a sort of hidden away feeling about it which is good for a quiet few beers. 7/10

Service: The barman and I presume, owner, is a character (you’d have to be to stock 100 beers and the largest mustard collection!). He generally wanders round and talks with the locals and is responsible for getting you the beers. I’ve never seen anyone pour and present a beer with as much detail. He also tried a bit of English with us! 8/10

Smokiness: None to speak of. Top marks 10/10

Snacks: There were packets of breadsticks at each table but we didn’t try any. Not sure what other snacks were available, but I think they serve food during the day. 4/10

Furnishings: The ceilings and walls are covered with beer glasses and tankards. There are also old photos of Basel and in general an eclectic mix of beer advertisements and such. The seating is comfortable but a little too like a restaurant for my liking. 6/10

Music: No music in the background so more top marks. 10/10

“The John”: This was a real find! Possibly the best “bog” we’ve come across so far. They’re clean and decorated with brilliant cartoons of a lurid nature! Well worth a visit just for the toilets alone. They are however locked so you need to get the key from the bar counter. It’s the one with the tennis ball with “H” attached to the key! 10/10

Rated 5/5 on Nov 08 2007 by The Swiss Job
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Review of Unser Brewery

Unser Brewery,Laufenstrasse 16, Basel, Switzerland

l_ubier.gifIt’s been too long since the last review. I know. And I have no excuses for it either. But last night we braved the cold temperatures and biting winds to bring you the latest Basel Bar review. We suffer for our art. Here are our thoughts on the Unser Brewery. I should also note that this place is worth going to, simply to open the door and smell the hops and brewery smell inside. Heaven!

Date and time: 25/10/07 around 7.30 – 11pm

Location and ease of access: This one is kinda out of the way and not very well sign-posted. But it’s a hidden gem and worth the walk. Located on the Grosse Basel side of town and along from the train station it is located at the back of the actual brewery. 4/10

Beer selection and prices: Four of their homegrown beers on tap, a blonde, a dunkel (dark beer), a special October Beer which we sampled and one other I can’t remember! Prices were a little on the high side but worth the money. 7/10

Atmosphere: The place was buzzing when we got in and slowly eased off as the night went on. Pleasant background chatter and German mumblings. There’s seating for maybe forty to fifty people in among the brewery apparatus. One thing I did notice, the crowd was mostly male although I don’t think this should be a reflection on the place, just the night that we were there. 7/10

Service: Good table service, our glasses were never allowed to go empty and the food was brought in good time although Sarah had to wait for her pretzel for a while. Spoke German to them (although they were willing to speak English) as we’re now in Deutsch Intensiv IV and feel like we’re at the point where we can order a pretzel and beer! 7/10

Smokiness: Generally very good, we picked a good spot to sit at and weren’t bothered by the smoke. 8/10

Snacks: Top notch. We got our first beer and two warm fresh pretzels that melted in your mouth. We then had another beer and then ordered dinner, Kase Schnitze for me and Rauchwurst for Matthew. Both of us were happy with the meals. The only downside was Sarah’s slightly overcooked pretzel later on. 8/10

Furnishings: Long simple tables and chairs just inside the door and beside the fermentation tanks. Nice clean room with the old brick work visible and a small bar. 7/10

Music: Very little and the atmosphere was better for it. It doesn’t strike me as a background music kinda of place because it’s still a fully functioning brewery. This was brought home to us when two guys came past wheeling three large sacks of hops! 8/10

“The John”: Through a door into an adjoining apartment block and the toilets were in the foyer? A bit of an unusual situation but it worked, they were clean anddid exactly what it says on the tin. 7/10

Rated 5/5 on Oct 26 2007 by The Swiss Job
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What’s your favourite biscuit?

I wrote this last night because at this precise moment in time I’m in front of forty to fifty of my colleagues reporting on my progress. I’ve never been a big fan of public speaking but in science this goes with the territory.

I’ve prepared my thirty minute presentation and have been through it multiple times since. But no matter how well you think you’ve prepared or progressed over the last few weeks, when you put it all together, you notice the gaps and the mistakes and the things that could be done just a little bit better.

Because of this I generally prepare talks to avoid obvious gaps and to deflect any possible questions after the presentation. This is an art in itself and requires, for me at least, a lot of practise because when I get up there, the nerves generally make me forget everything and I just start blurting. And blurting is never tactical or smart.

In life I generally try to avoid confrontation, I don’t consider myself an overly confident or self assured kinda guy. Of course the purpose of these talks is not to grill the speaker but to understand more about what everyone is doing and to keep up to date with the departments progress. However, questions are inevitable and sometimes people have to defend. This is the bit I don’t like.

But what doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger and when I consider how nervous I am now compared to a few years ago when I started in this game, it’s getting a lot better. I always remember a bet I had with a friend during my PhD. We went to lots of talks and every talk ends with the usual:


Thanks for your attention and if anyone has any questions I’d be happy to answer them.

Of course what follows are highly intelligent, probing and thought provoking queries on the data that has just been presented. Most of the time, boring. We always wanted to ask:


I really enjoyed your presentation but I would really like to know, do you prefer fig rolls or chocolate digestives?

We never had the guts to go through with it, but who knows, it might happen tomorrow!


Ps. The answer for anyone wanting to know is chocolate digestives. Dark chocolate obviously. They win every time.

Is he a school teacher?

Irish-ism has made it the whole way to Switzerland! I had to re-new my passport recently and as there isn’t a consulate in Basel I had to get in touch with the embassy in Bern. So I dropped them an email and the form arrived in the post with all the necessary bits and pieces.

“Lovely”, said I, as I scanned through the form and ticked off everything I needed to send back. Previous passport, birth cert, the right size photos, the usual stuff. I then got to the back page and they required a witness to sign it. The eligible witnesses were as follows, although I can’t remember all of them:

  1. Doctor
  2. Guard
  3. Lawyer
  4. School Headmaster
  5. Priest
  6. Accountant

So there was a good choice but I didn’t have any. My doctor here doesn’t know me from Adam, likewise for the police. I don’t have a lawyer or accountant and my school headmaster hasn’t seen me in eleven years. I haven’t been to church here so I didn’t feel like going in and asking the local padre for an autograph. So the logical choice for my witness was my boss. As he wasn’t technically on the list and I had left the renewal to the last minute, I couldn’t risk anything going wrong. So I gave the embassy a call. Here’s how the conversation went:

Me: Ah, hello, I’ve got a quick question regarding the witness eligibility on the passport renewal form.

Embassy: Sure, what do you need to know?

Me: Well, I was wondering if my boss would fit the bill. He’s a professor of Biochemistry at the University of Basel.

Embassy: Is he a doctor?

Me: He has a doctorate alright but he isn’t technically a medical doctor.

Embassy: Ah, well he won’t do then.

Me: Could I put him under School Headmaster? He could technically be one!

Embassy: No, sorry, it’ll have to be someone on the list.

Me: He holds a professorship and a doctorate in biochemistry and has worked all round the world. He has had his own lab for twenty years, has published in plenty of peer-reviewed scientific journals, has also edited a number of those in his time, he’s married with two kids, plays the French horn and is an all round nice guy. Honest as well. Are you sure he won’t do?

Embassy: Nope, he’d have to be a medical doctor. Do you have a priest? Or a lawyer?

Me: Neither, but you’d take a school headmaster over my boss? Or an accountant? I’m going to have to think about it. Thanks for the help.

Embassy: No problem, bye.

So I went and got the boss to sign it and sent it off. They didn’t bat an eyelid. I should give up being honest and just get on with it.

Dipping my big fork

Yesterday was the last day with the visitors, they’re on a train as I type on their way back to Holland. We had a great few days including the trip to the Alps and it was all topped off last night with the first fondue of the season!

It doesn’t matter how many times I have it, I will never tire of fondue. There is something so good about plunging a cube of bread into the bubbling deliciousness, seductively swirling it round (a figure of eight we have been told  is the most efficient), letting the excess drip off and then  gorging yourself on the creamy goodness!

I was trying to put a touch of “Nigella Lawson, softcore food-porn lingo” on the paragraph above. Did it work? Anyway we had a cracking fondue with the works, salad, pickled onions, fresh cracked pepper, wine, kirsche, good company and a late night. I love this time of year because it means there’s plenty more fondue, raclette and rosti to come. It’s important to stay well fed during the winter months!

But fondue is such a good idea for when you have friends over. It takes fifteen minutes to make, you plonk it in the middle of the table and everyone digs in. You eat as much or as little as you like, you can take as long as you like because the little heater keeps everything bubbling and everyone likes to play with their food! Of course, if you have a cheese allergy it’s best not tried! Speaking of which I remember being in a pizza restaurant in the States and the guy behind me said he’d like a pizza but he had a bad cheese allergy so there couldn’t be any cheese anywhere near the pizza! Who goes to a pizza place with a cheese allergy?

I’m digressing. Anyway, fondue is brilliant. Full stop.

Geography lessons

The walks at the weekend were fantastic to get a look at the Alps close up. I was constantly reminded of my geography lessons from back in school. I can remember quite a bit about those classes and sometimes wonder why I didn’t take up geography as a career. It was one of those subjects, and there weren’t many, that seemed easy to learn and to understand.

Anyway, we had a teacher called Ms. Fox and while she had her moments (I remember learning line dancing at one point), overall she had a great enthusiasm for all things geographical. We learned about volacanos, the different types of rock, rivers and lakes, the weather systems in central France, freeze thaw erosion and so on. While Ireland is equipped with some fine examples of the geographical features Ms. Fox taught us, I only realise now why she was so excited about them.

When you see the glaciers coming down the slopes, the valleys they have carved out many thousands of years ago, the rock layers in the cliffs, the morraines of abandoned rock left behind, the scree slopes, the ravines and waterfalls it all seems to make sense. Seeing these things in the flesh rather than in a text book gives you a far greater appreciation of the forces and times involved. It’s like walking through a geography book chapter.

Due to rising insurance costs our school stopped trips overseas the year or two before I started school. It’s a terrible shame because if school children could walk through what I experienced at the weekend I’m sure they’d come away with a much better understanding and respect for what’s around them. Or am I staring through some rosy tinted glasses?