In and around Basel : May 11 -16 2019
Anytime I visit Europe on work or leisure, I plan a visit to Basel to be with my very close friend and her family. We planned a longish stay this time. The objective was to just spend time at home and at best float around Basel. Since Kannan and I were both there on this trip, our friends recommended that we do some offbeat stuff. And it was absolutely worth it. We traveled to Basel from Amsterdam by train via Koln.
The stopover in Koln was just for a few hours. Enough to see the church and take a walk to and around the old town. We availed the luggage storage facility at the station. It is a well-automated system where one gets a big box for 6 Euro. With no human intervention required, you are not stuck in a queue to give and take the luggage. It was raining, so we first dashed into the church. It is right outside the station and towering over it.
The Cologne Cathedral is a church of St Peter. It has Gothic Architecture and is a World Heritage site. This twin-spired church is the 2nd tallest in the world at 515ft. Its construction had begun in 1248 but it was stalled in 1473 for nearly 3.5 decades and finally completed in 1880, 632 years after it began. Due to the rain, we entered the church praying for the rain to stop for us to be able to get an outside view. The church is very beautiful from inside. There are tall stained-glass windows throughout the church. The architecture of the high ceiling is worth noting. The statues in the church seem to be from across multiple time periods. One of St Christopher was really lovely. In admiring around the church we missed the time to enter the chapel. However, we were keen on that and decided to take a walk to the old Jew town and come back. That was totally worth it. Artwork and opulence both are reflected well in the “Shrine of three kings”. The mosaic work on the floor is breath taking. Tourists keep walking over it making it difficult to take pictures. We finally managed a couple after literally holding the crowd back!
It was still drizzling a bit when we got out of the church. With a couple of hrs before we could go to the chapel, we thought we’d see the museum which is next door. It was unfortunately closed. So we took a walk to the Hohenzollern Bridge. The way to the bridge is flanked by 2 grand statues of men on horseback. You get the view of the river Rhine and the city as you approach the bridge. This bridge is a must-visit if one has a few minutes to spare. The bridge is covered from start to finish, top to bottom, with locks with names of couples who have put them etched on them! Interesting way of expressing commitment. Wonder if they come and remove the lock if they break up!!
We got off the bridge and walked around in the park for a while admiring the installations there onto the old town. The place has the feel of an old town with a few modern buildings trying to sneak in. The market was busy around lunchtime with people enjoying traditional street food. There was a manual organ player entertaining everybody. Further down we came across a nice square. Admired the statues and continued back towards the Church. The weather had cleared. We took a few better pictures, went inside and visited the chapel. Back at the station, it took us just a few minutes to pull out our luggage and walk to our platform for continuing the journey to Basel
Back at the station, it took us just a few minutes to pull out our luggage and walk to our platform for continuing the journey to Basel. At Basel, our friends Anu and Stephan had come to pick us up. We reached home and after dinner and a long chat wrapped up a day well spent.
We got up late the next day. After breakfast, we took a tram to the weekly market in Lorrach. The farmers bring their produce to this central place. Besides a lot of fruit, vegetable and bakery shops there were also shops selling handicrafts and plans and seeds. After some purchases, we went to a nice, more like a family-run coffee shop. The overall experience was very relaxing and give a good idea of the community. Also was nice to see families out together – it was a weekend. We then went to an Indian restaurant which is owned and run by a friend of Anu and Stephan. The meal was excellent and hospitality great. We went back home and later in the afternoon Anu and I went to a nearby completely self-service flower field where you can pick up flowers that you like and drop off the money for the same based on the rates put up. Simply loved the concept!
Adrenaline rush on Hasenhorn Coaster at Steinwasen Park in Germany
On Sunday, Stephan went and picked up a car early morning and drove us to Feldberg, the highest village in the Black Forest. The drive was very beautiful. Fortunately, it was a sunny day and we could enjoy the clear blue sky and the green forest as we drove through the valleys. Through the route, there were small outlets of strawberry mostly done in a very attractive manner. I was not aware that Stephan was taking us to Hasenhorn Coaster, one of the best mountain coaster in the region.
Going up on the ropeway chair was very pleasant. Stephan and son Tamino insisted that we get the coaster experience on the way back. I agreed. After reached the top, we went to the café at the top of the mountain. Nice small restaurant in a log hut with a ton of quaint decoration. The next was a walk in the rain forest which was not very tiring. The crowds had started coming by now. It was interesting to see many cyclists coming with their bicycles which also can be brought up through the ropeway. Cycling done the mountain is a popular sport here. Tamino was eager to take the ride back. With him in the car ahead of me and Stephan in the one after, I took the plunge. It was super fun and exhilarating!! The speed is high so there is little time to feel afraid. However, there was time to notice a few cyclists going down, people on the ropeway chairs, greenery around, the town at a distance and wind in the face! No wonder it is a popular activity with the youth in Germany. Kannan and Anu came down using the ropeway.
We walked back to the town and walked around. Some of the hotels in the town are very beautifully done with flowers in bloom in all the windows. Anu showed us the place where “hair perming” was invented. On our way back we stopped for some strawberries.
Pablo Picasso Blue and Rose Period at Foundation Beyeler, Basel
We were in Basel by 3:00 pm. Kannan and I got off at the Basel Museum- Foundation Beyeler for the exhibition of Picasso’s paintings from the Blue and Rose period – 1901-1906. Entering the museum felt like a huge bonus. Felt lucky to be able to see the works on yet another great artist. There were a number of painting from his study of the circus artist and their life. Many of the paintings from the Blue Period are a deep study of human expression. Also found his paintings of a death of a fellow artist/friend very interesting. Picasso experimented a lot with his style and that and his study of people comes out very well in the paintings of this period. In his lifetime Picasso painted more than 43000 paintings so what we saw was just a glimpse of his work. Another interesting part of the exhibition was the digital book which enabled cross-referencing the models across different paintings etc. It looks like a book out of one of the Harry Potter movies…and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
By 5:30 pm we were done. We spent some time in the foundation garden and then walked back home. At home, we had an early dinner and went to bed.
A day trip to Paris
We were in two minds about going to Paris. Our friends encouraged us as it is just about 3 hrs by train. We were at the Louvre Museum at 10:00 am. The plan was to try our luck to get the museum tickets and spend the day at the museum if we did else go around the city. The ticket queues were long. So we decided to go around on the outside and continue with the city tour. The buildings in which the museum is housed are an architectural delight. So we spend some time walking around admiring the building and the statues in the garden area. The entrance arches to the museum are worth taking a closer look. It was interesting to see a huge number of hawkers here selling from water to poor quality souvenirs.
We were suggested that the walk to Arc de Triomphe is a must-do. On route one covers a number of monuments etc. We walked through the Tuileries Garden which is a public garden located between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde, admiring the flora and statues in the garden. The square area has the Luxor Obelisk (a 3300 year old Egyptian obelisk erected on the square in October 1836), a couple of huge fountains and some very ornate lamp post.
From there one can walk down the boulevard towards the Arc de Triomphe. The Grand Palace is pretty close by. We walked there and took some pictures. The road is flanked by trees which are trimmed very well in clean lines. It was interesting to watch one of the cutters in action chopping the branches to form a cube form. Further down the side-walk is full of souvenir shops, eateries as well as fashion wear shops.
The Arc de Triomphe is one of the most famous landmarks of Paris, built in 1836. It honors those who fought and died for France in the French revolution and Napoleonic wars. The names of all French victories and generals are inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces the Arc de Triomphe. It has an overall height of 50m, a width of 45 m and depth of 22m. We were keen to go up the monument. The lift was not working and I decided to conserve my knees so we just went around and admired the architecture and took some pictures.
We then took the train and went to Eiffel Tower. Eiffel Tower is a 324 m tall steel structure with 3 decks, the summit being at 276m. We were keen to go up to the summit or top floor. Surprisingly the queue for the entrance was not very long. After a wait of about 15-20 minutes, we were in the premise. The heavy security check is one of the reasons for the wait time. There are warnings about pickpockets all over the place. So, we held on to our bags. The wait in the queue for going up the tower was longer. While in the queue the screen on the ticket counter kept displaying that the tickets for the top deck were not available when we reached the counter they asked us if we wanted to go to the top deck and gave us the tickets for the same!!. The lift from the bottom takes you to the middle deck only. It took a while for our turn to get into the lift. But once we were on the deck there was no restriction on how much time one could spend there. We had reached the Eiffel Tower entrance at around 1:00 pm and were on the middle deck by 2:10 pm or so. Not bad!
We spent about 30 minutes going all around and taking pictures. It was a clear day and the view was breathtaking. One can see a number of monuments from the top. Seine River which runs through Paris was full and green. A number of bridges across the river make a pretty picture. The Trocadero Gardens with its fountains and the museum complex looks amazing. The symmetric design of the old city shows up beautifully from the top. This is a must-do if one is going to Paris. While the middle deck is protected a wall so one can get clear pictures, the top deck is covered with a wire mesh for safety reasons. There is a bar on this floor which is popular with the tourists. The restaurant requires pre-booking. After spending another 30 minutes or so we came down. We did not have enough time to go to the gardens or museums that we saw from the top! That is on the list for the next visit.
Next, we took the train to St Michel Norte Dame. While the monument has suffered huge damage in the recent fire and we knew that we will not be able to enter we decided to take a look from the outside. The church and the surrounding areas are fully cordoned off and only the residents with a permit are allowed to enter the lanes near the church. We went around and took some pictures. It is really sad that such an important and beautiful monument was lost to the flames.
The St. Chapelle is close by. As we walked we came across St Michel square. The walk between the two monuments is made interesting with a number of artists on the riverbank selling their paintings and prints and making fresh paintings. This is one aspect we noticed near all the monuments. Only a few artists draw the building drawings. Many use a stencil to make the impression on the canvas or paper and paint on the same. We spend some time looking at the paintings and see the artists at work.
The Sainte Chapelle is a royal chapel built in Gothic style ( could see the similarity to the Koln church ) in 1248 AD and is on the river Seine. The most prominent feature of the church is the tall stained-glass windows. Our necks pained as we craned them to get a good view of the work around the church. For me, this was also a must-visit for the stain glass work.
It was nearly 5:00 pm and we were hungry. As we walked, we came across a number of restaurants and Pizzerias one of which we entered.. We were crazily hungry and entered one. The preparation was excellent. However, there was a big scene being created by a completely drunk woman who landed breaking glasses and shouting. That took away the enjoyment part of the meal. It was nearly 5:45 pm and we had the reservation for the 6:55 pm train. So we decided to walk a bit and take the train to the station. We came across this huge square in front of the Hotel de Ville. The building is beautiful. We sat for a while and watched a bubble maker making huge bubbles and children running after them. Soon it was time to get back to the station and take the train back to Basel. It was a very exciting and tiring day and we saw quite a bit but Paris requires at least 3-4 days to do full justice. We will have to plan it on another trip!
Aareschlucht and Reichenbach Fall
We have been to Switzerland and done all the tourist spots previously. So, on this trip, we were keen to do either something offbeat or nothing! When A told us about Aare Gorge, both of us got excited. The Gorge is accessible by train. From Basel, we traveled to Lucerne by an early morning train and then changed to get onto a train to Meiringen. This is the next station after Interlaken. The route is very scenic and we got a seat in the Pantry car which has huge windows. So, thoroughly enjoyed the train journey. Also learned the trick. Having your breakfast on these trains is absolutely worth it for the view that one gets. On the table next to us were four women in their 60s, all friends going for a vacation. I wondered whether my friends were waiting to turn 60 to start taking these trips
At Meiringen, one can buy the ticket for Aareschlucht and Reichenback Fall along with the train ticket to Aareschlucht. The personnel in the station is very helpful in guiding. She recommended that we enter the gorge at the East end and exit at the west, then visit the fall before returning. We were the only Indians amongst the not so large number of tourists who got down for the trek. Once we got off the station one of the tourists guided us to the path. Sherlock holmes wooden statue stood there as a guide. The signboards are not extremely good in this part. Also, I believe most people just use Google Maps to find the path these days. Unfortunately, we had not either downloaded the offline map nor had GPS. Once on the trail, we walked through the village and through the fields with cows grazing making it a perfect rural scene.
The trail took us to the main road which had huge signage and entrance for the Gorge. We asked someone where the entrance was and she guided us to a trail on the side. Not sure if she did not know English or just assumed that these Indian would not be going for the Gorge. We walked up to the path which was a rather difficult climb though beautiful and reached a village on the other end. It looked like a ghost town with no one in sight, no shops open, even the petrol pump had no one. After trying to figure out what to do for a while we decided to trace back our path and reached back the place with the signboard. This time we figured out the way in. There was a ticket checker in place who let us into the gorge. So finally after an hour of getting off at the station, we reached the point where we should have started!
Once we entered the Gorge area the frustration of having been misguided and gotten lost vanished. While this is an absolutely safe trail it is not for the weak-hearted. The path on which one walks is made along the wall of the Gorge with wooden planks which hang above the river flowing with full force. The walk takes one through a couple of tunnels, through waterfalls and through the narrowest (1m), tallest (180m high) and the widest (40m) portions of the gorge which is about 1400m in length.
Overall a very exhilarating experience. We did not come across many tourists, so it was like having the whole place to ourselves. It was noon by the time we exited on the other side.
Most people enter through this end. The café here was bigger and had more people. After a short break, we started for Reichenbach Fall.
The walk to Reichenbach Fall took us about 20 minutes. The fall is visible from a distance. The walk is through a village where the houses and the gardens were very beautifully kept. The Reichenbach Falls are known as the scene of Sherlock Holmes’ fatal battle with his archenemy Professor Moriarty. The Falls are three separate waterfalls, of which the Grand Reichenbach fall is the largest (120m). To get to the fall one has to use a funicular. This is a cable car on rails with a wooden coach that can seat perhaps 20-25 people. Looks rickety. The funicular was opened in 1899 and was rebuilt in 1999 to the original design. There are only 2 coaches and the track is 700+m long and rises 242m – so steep gradient. It runs every 15 min and we got onto one within 5 minutes of reaching.
We spent just a few minutes at the place where the funicular dropped us off. You can see the place is fully dedicated to Sherlock Holmes. The spot where Sherlock Holmes was supposed to have been pushed off from is way up the fall. While it clearly looked like a steep walk up, we decided to take it. It is a difficult walk and the walking stick I had carried came in very handy. The trek up was very much worth it. The view of the waterfall from the top makes you believe the story! The view of the town is also lovely. For paucity of time, we did not take a break at the restaurant on the top. Walking down was slow and not very easy. By 1:45 pm or so we were down. The bus had just left for Meiringen station so we had no choice but to undertake the 20 minutes or so walk. The train for Lucern came in another 20-25 minutes later. That gave us some time to grab some food.
It was almost 5:30 by the time we reached Basel. We met up A, S and S’s mom for a quick dinner before we headed out to T’s school for his concert. The concert was very professionally done. T is an amazing performer and we felt very privileged to have been present for the concert. After the concert, T joined us and we walked together across the river Rhine as the sunset around 9:00 pm. After reaching home, we packed for an early morning departure to Geneva.
I wanted to meet my friends Meenu at Lausanne and Shanthi at Geneva. Kannan had not seen Geneva, so he agreed to accompany me on my social visits. As planned, we started from Basel early morning and took a train to Lausanne. Meenu came to meet us at the station. With her help, we kept the luggage at a locker and then went to a restaurant for some coffee. Meenu was supposed to join us to Geneva but had to drop out at the last minute due to personal work.
We reached Geneva and took a bus to the World Health Organization to meet Shanthi. For the next 2.5 hrs Shanthi took us for a wonderful tour around the campus showing us the different pieces of art around the campus, important offices, library, etc and then hosted us for lunch. I felt extremely proud of Shanthi’s role in WHO and the difference that she was making to the world.
Reformation wall was next on our list. We took a bus which dropped us a little away. The park in which the reformation wall is situated has a section dedicated to chess. There are huge chess boards on the ground and on tables for anyone to come in and play. This is a unique concept to promote the game. The Reformation Wall is in the Parc des Bastions, portraying the major figures of the reformation in the form of huge statues and bas-reliefs. At the center are John Calvin, William Farel, Théodore de Bèze and John Knox. At the sides are those who spread the Reformation throughout Europe.
We then walked around the old city area. The streets are narrow and one has to keep going up and down the staircases as the city is built on very uneven areas which also makes it a bit mysterious to explore. We found some excellent murals on the staircase leading to the Museum of Natural History.
St Peter’s Cathedral caught our fancy and we decided to visit it. It is built at the highest point of the old town and one has to climb 157 steps to reach the top from where the view of the city is very beautiful. This protestant church is built in the 16th century is in Gothic architecture. The painting on the ceiling, the stained glass work and some ancient statues of the saints on the wall make for interesting viewing. It was nearly 5:00 pm when we exited the place We took the path that would take us closest to the fountain to get to the station. There was no time to go and sit anywhere near that area. It was time to head back to Lausanne and spend some time with M. Next day early morning we left M’s place for Italy. Thus completing a very enjoyable non-touristy visit to Switzerland.