Tuesday, 30 May 2017


Our transport arrangements were very slick on this trip. The flat Bill selected magically included a pass for buses and trams around the city. Surprisingly, our tickets weren't once checked; we just got on and off where ever we wished.

Parts of Switzerland are flat.

Not that I would try it without a ticket. I don't think the authorities would be very lenient, after all, you can afford international travel but not a tram ticket? I don't think so.

Jane and Chris travel long and often, so when they make suggestions I bow to their experience and trust their (mostly) tightwad principles. One of their suggestions was that we buy a train ticket for three days, so see other places in Switzerland besides Basel.

The ticket for consecutive days was cheaper, but Chris suggested splashing out for selected dates to be determined, as we might struggle with three continuous days of extended walking. This was a decision that had to be made prior to arrival in the country.

Chateau (hotel?) in the background; postman on yellow tricycle with trailer!

I went along with buying the slightly more expensive ticket but still dreaded those days out, thinking of my poor aching feet and legs. Chris and Jane can walk all day and all night, I think. I sometimes wonder if they imagine me still the marathon runner of my distant past. Bill is secretary of a long-distance walking organisation for heaven's sake. Fortunately for me (selfish to say it), Bill has a knee injury and needed to take it easy so I was able to walk at a comfortable pace! We were all tired when we returned to the flat, but I was able to really enjoy the travel days, not dread them.

We trained, trammed, ferried and even bus-ed, just to cover all the transport options, as much as we walked. I love public transport and wouldn't ever wish to do without it again.  

On our first day of train travel we got the train to Thun (pronounced Toon). We were surprised that so much of Switzerland was flat, but then the mountains are generally somewhere in the distance. 

We came upon the busy market square. I spotted some walnuts and grabbed a few handfuls. 

Not to eat the nuts - though I expect we will - rather because the shells make a great natural dye for fabric that I've seen makes a lovely shade of taupe, one of my favourite colours. I probably don't have enough, but it's as much as I was prepared to carry around all day.

In addition to food stalls there was a band playing. Bill was struck by the fact there was no hat in which to put coins. I wonder who paid them?

We went through some narrow spaces and up a million stairs to what looked like a chateau-turned-hotel. 

I guessed this was a vicarage of sorts.

Beyond that was the church with probably the best view of the city. 

We sat and ate our packed lunches overlooking the city roofs, the river and the mountains. We took some group photos for other tourists and then they took ours. 

Perhaps my outfit could have used a bit of colour...

I see from my research that one can sometimes go inside.

I tried translating the Greek etched over the window, but Google Translate proved unrealiable. Amusing, but I'm none the wiser.

I never tried, but Chris has a major passion for cathedrals and so I'm fairly certain he at least tried the doors and found them locked.

Strangely, I thought, on one wall of the church was a sun dial which not only told the time, but supposedly indicated the month of the year using the usual zodiac signs. 

I was surprised to discover that I've forgotten the symbols I knew so well as a teenager. I've never really believed in astrology, but it was a teen thing back then. 

Bill was taken with some one's veggie garden. 

Not by what was planted or the use of plastic bottles as cloches, but by the astroturf strips between the planted areas. Brilliant!

Turns out I'm not immune to snow covered mountains after all.

I think covered bridges are probably quite useful in the Swiss climate - everything is built for heavy snow. This bridge had a number of lines with handles - for the purpose of surfing on the river!

On the way back to the train station, we happened to notice a couple of guys with wet suits and surf boards.

We watched as one caught one of the lines ('Lines' on the river seem to be a theme as well, as you'll see another day). He got on his board and the current took him to the middle of the river. I thought he was just going to ski, holding onto the rope.

Instead, he dropped the rope and began to surf the rough water that emerged from under the bridge. He fell down shortly, but the second guy seemed to surf for ages without effort.

We all thought it was a pretty ingenious idea. There are any number of videos on the internet if you wish to see it in motion.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Basel Day One

Our first mission the next morning was to find the tourist office, which I gather was at the train station. Since I didn't have Switzerland anywhere on my bucket list I just followed where Jane or Bill led. It really wasn't until I started looking through my photos that I realised it had actually been a far more interesting trip that had occurred to me while it was happening. Perhaps I shouldn't admit to that. I'm remembering all the pleasure I've had in the past reliving the holiday and researching all the questions that popped up at the time.

Anyhow, I had the impression this building was called something like the fenster or fenêtre building, after the many windows, but in fact it is called Südpark (South Park!) and it's meant to remind you of Tetris, the computer game. Whatever. It's near the train station, a much more stately affair.

Trams run all over the place, which is great...until you want to take a photo.

At tourist information Jane found a brochure that featured several walks in Basel city centre, each assigned a colour and a famous name. Well, I recognised a few but could only actually identify one; so much for being 'educated'. 

It took us a while to learn to spot the signs along the walk and I'm not at all sure how well we did, but we saw some astonishing things. Jane discovered how confusing it is to have two people navigating (both she and her brother are accustomed to leading). Chris and I are more followers, but while the rest of us might hang back, unsure if entry was allowed, Chris would go snoop march forth, discover wondrous sights and return to beckon us on. When everyone got stymied with indecision I would volunteer a suggestion to keep us going. So, it all worked out.

Major points to Chris for discovering this inside!

Another priority was to figure out how to say Basel. It isn't a silly question at all, given that there are about as many spellings and pronunciations of this city's name as countries that surround Switzerland (and even those that don't). Jane was accustomed to the French manner (Baal) and I think I had been using the American version that sounds like we say the herb, but since we were in a German area I switched over to their pronunciation. You can read all about that here. Another place we were to visit later on was Thun, which is easy to say: Toon. Just like the name Geordies give to Newcastle.

But enough of semantics. One of the best sights in Basel was the town hall or rathaus (rat house!). Which reminds me that I never wrote about our last meet-up with Jane & Chris, in Vienna (where we stumbled upon the Eurovision song contest!) Must figure out how to do that, though much of it will be forgotten by now, sadly.

Anyhow, I gather that while the original council house is about 500 years old, much of the original fresco work has been lost and some of the building was torn down and rebuilt in the last hundred years or so. Still, we thought it was pretty spectacular.

I have no more words to share, so I will just leave you with the photos.

Each face different! I wonder who they were?

Even the down pipe is decorated!

Almost made me think of cartoon drawings, but still very effective.

Scary lady?

I had this last, but it looked like he was peaking up the soldier's skirt...

Monday, 22 May 2017

The Flat

So, about the trip to Basel. We flew via Amsterdam. As we walked through Schiphol we both remarked it wasn't as shiny and sparkling new as we had remembered it. Guess we're all getting older. 

Bill had the trip all planned out and while we managed to get the bus from the Basel airport (which as far as I can tell is in France, not Switzerland) to the train station, we couldn't find the right tram to near the flat so we gave up and took a taxi. Given the driver's use of acceleration and braking I was thinking it was a New York experience (which I've not had) but he had an electric car, which impressed me, and it was a quick journey down a load of one-way streets.

An ordinary, nondescript block of flats.

You'll have to excuse the disarray of the flat in the photos. Most were taken on the morning we were all packing up. We'd stripped the beds to help out the girl who tended the flat and of course our focus was on getting bags packed and clothes suitable for a rainy walk to the train station. 

With all that glass, not a lot of security, but it didn't worry me.

Jane & Chris had already arrived and re-arranged the furniture. The flat was advertised as having two double bedrooms, which wasn't quite true as the second bedroom had no door on it and you had to sidle around the edges of the two twin beds. 

Still, they chose this room with the balcony out the back after putting the (Ikea) bookshelf unit in the door way with the rickety screen behind it. With their towels hung over the screen they had a fair amount of privacy, the breeze and the relative quiet of the back gardens. Good choice.

Ours was a large attractive room furnished with a chest of drawers and clothes rack (from Ikea) and a large bed with nightstands. 

The big window had shutters for privacy (no curtains anywhere in the flat) and doors into the hall and the living room. 

The other bedroom, we decided, was so small because the bathroom had been built in part of that space and we figured given the age of the building that originally there were probably shared WCs on the half landings between each floor, now storage space. The front windows of the flat looked out across the busy road (noisy at night, but not as noisy as horn-honking Italians, the Swiss are much more civilised) at more flats. The one directly across from us was pretty much the ugliest I saw on the whole trip. 

I did learn that it is not unusual for people to have a (Ikea) cabinet on their balcony, generally for storing their shoes. That suggests to me that, unlike in Britain, their rain is also very civilised, restricting itself to vertical movement.

The kitchen conveniently had a window out onto the balcony which facilitated food transport on the evenings we ate outside. 

It was furnished with the basics (from Ikea), including a dishwasher and one of those stupid Nespresso machines. I despise them (being a producer of needless waste for landfill), but when the (free from the cruise) packets of caffeinated coffee ran out I ended up using the machine as the coffee was supplied, or perhaps left by previous tenants along with various condiments and oils. I made a full strength coffee in a large mug, but pushed the button for the little ones (I used the little cups to tuck away my British money in my underwear drawer and on my nightstand to put my rings and earrings in each night). Then I poured out half the coffee, diluted it about 5-1 with hot water from the kettle, adding sweeteners and skimmed milk. If they served it at a coffee place it would be called a Skinny Wimp or perhaps Coffee a la Hot Chocolate. Did I mention these idiotic machines make the most horrific noise?

Jane & Chris had just completed a two week river cruise on the Rhine that ended in Basel, hence the obvious choice for where to meet up. It being one of those hugely expensive, luxurious all-inclusive trips and they being (in some ways) of a tightwad leaning much like myself, they discovered that just like in the old days with soap, shampoos, etc in hotel rooms, the company generously restocked the mini-bar in their room with no complaints whatsoever. So we had several litres of white and red wine in half-bottles, a good supply of Gordon's gin and Baileys liqueur and a small selection of whiskey and rum. With all that to carry, it's no surprise that Chris's back acted up during the holiday. Shame I didn't get a photo of the stash. We did our share of getting through it, Bill poured red wine on a heated up beef and pasta and I invented a dessert that involved chopped up fruit drowned in Baileys; and we had aperitifs and wine with dinner. After all, we had to spare Chris's back on their return to Australia.

The living room had some weird and less than wonderful (for bad backs and short people) furniture in bright colours, plus the latest (I guess) in TV screens. Chris had never seen a curved one. They had moved the round table and four chairs from the kitchen to one end of the living room and that seemed a very sensible arrangement.

Jane figured the flat was furnished by a young man who didn't cook much and had different priorities to ours and I had to agree (his name is Phillipe). They were most excited to show us the pièce de résistance: the lavatory. I just looked it up and sure enough in North America the lavatory refers to the bathroom sink; Brits use this word to mean the toilet. I'm talking about the sink. And I've finally given in and added a label I've long considered: Loos I've Loved - watch this space!

It was a rather amazing contraption as the base had a light and a motion detector, providing a dim night light for nocturnal visitors, such as myself and Chris. It's just that with the vase shape and the marble material it looked more to me like a sacrificial basin to some gods of fire.  We all agreed that Phillipe really outdid him self in this selection and clearly he was proud of it as well as it features large in his online adverts. It would be a deal-maker for you, wouldn't it?

For all its quirks, it was a pretty good flat: everything worked, great shower, and excellent location near shops (including Aldis and Coop) and walking distance to the train station. Bill chose very well, I'd say.