Friday, October 5, 2012

Basel Beckons - September 26th

It is socked in this morning. The night’s rest was better for me, not so much for Betty. Had the banana’s from last night’s Monoprix visit to cut a few of the hunger pangs prior to heading to the Gare, but it was the pain au chocolate & raison really put those growls down for the count.

We made the train with time to spare after getting ourselves a bit turned around. Let’s just say that trying a new path when you’ve a schedule to keep isn’t a brilliant plan.  But Betty hotfooted us through Colmar and as noted we made the train.

The weather lightened up the further we progressed south. While I love train travel, I prefer to be on the observation level (haut). Low-level seating is equal to the tree line and doesn’t allow for many views of the countryside. However, the trees would give sway to vistas every so often and they were lovely.

2nd Class TER coach

Switzerland is not part of the EU. So it required carrying our passports (which we do normally) and a change of currency to Swiss Francs. I was disappointed to not get another country stamp when the train arrived in Basel. But the passport control was closed and everyone just walked right in to this new country for me.  The most notable immediate change was the language. From the lyrical French we moved to guttural German. To be fair though, Swiss German is softer than that spoken in Germany (according to a woman in the coffee shop we visited).

Welcome to Basel, Switzerland

Center Mural of three in Basel Train Station

Take a tram in Basel, they go everywhere
And speaking of the coffee shop, the Grand Café Hueigen, was the site for very expensive café crème and a language lesson.  While I tried hard with French, my German was basically non-existent.  So, the women working in the café (and a customer) took to looking after my language education.  Danke, bitte, bitte-shen, gutentag, etc. were explained and I had to practice.  The one I never quite figured out was how to ask for the check…zum-something.  But we all had a great time.

Before I move on to the sites, tastes, and sounds of this city, I want to thank Anne Schiedel (remember her from a couple of other posts?).  Anne used to live outside Basel and recently returned to Portland. We reconnected and over dinner told her about the trip and, perhaps,  the visit to Basel.  Well, then she returned the favor and invited us for a delicious fondue dinner at which she pulled out a map of Basel and told us about and showed us a walk to see the sights.  Now one would think that was enough, but not Anne. Shortly before we left I received an email from her with an entire walking tour documented street by street, turn by turn, site-by-site.  It was amazing and we followed it to a tee.  Anne now takes people on walking and hiking tours in Switzerland and Alsace. If you are interested, let me know and I’ll connect your with this wonderful friend of ours.  Thanks again Annie!!

Now onto Basel!  The highlights of the visit included: the Hammering Man, a tall iron sculpture of a man hammering on a building. According to Anne’s notes, there is also a Hammering Man in Seattle, going to have to locate that on one of the trips north. A quirky fountain by Basel artist Jean Tinguely was our next stop. What a fun collection of mechanical contraptions. There was one that I liked in particular, just a little things with extensions appearing much like a horses legs & hooves. The hooves would scoop and toss the water…it was hilarious.

The Hammering Man
Tinguely Fountain...loved the one in the lower left

The Marktplatz was a buzz of humans, cars, and vendors plying their goods. Center to the square was the Rathaus or town hall. A gorgeous red building adorned by gold-plated turrets, brilliant gables, and beautiful murals, it is truly one of the prettiest structures I’ve seen on my travels.  We were able to stroll inside the Rathaus to the courtyard where we found a woman high on a platform cleaning and painting the building.  It is clear they take great care of the lovely building.


Betty & the Klopfers
Since we’d planned to have lunch on the Marktplatz and had arrived such that the market vendors were still actively selling, we strolled along to figure out what was on our menu.  We found a number of options, but this one stand had two women grilling wursts (various types of sausages).  We looked them over and chose the biggest, fattest hot dog I’ve every seen.  They grilled them for you on the spot and serve with a big slab of bread and a large dollop of mustard.  Oh goodness was it tasty.  The mustard was the perfect highlight, I could get used to those pretty easily.

But the highlight of the trip to Basel was the Münsterfähre; a ferry that crosses the Rhine on a wire and just with the current pushing things along.  The view from the river of the river and the homes/buildings along the Rhine was spectacular.  The current was quite strong and we crossed way to quickly, but that was just too fun.  As Anne put it the Münsterfähre is “cheap entertainment”.  I wanted to go back and forth, but Betty thought that might have been considered a bit nuts…ah well, it was a lot of fun.

Attached only by the wire & moved by the Rhine current

Our Ferryman

Heading back - ring the bell if you want a ride
We visited the Münster (the cathedral) and then figured it was time to head back. Weather was changing and the rains started to increase, so back to the train station to return to Colmar. The ride back to Colmar would have been pretty sedate had it not been for the patdown I received from the Customs (Duane) people. We’d watched them pat down and search a fellow from Turkey and felt bad for him as they started going through all of his bags.  They then were walking past us as I was making notes about the situation. I happened to look up and caught the eye of the female officer…sigh, you know the rest, pat down, searched purses and backpacks.  Were we transporting more than 10,000 euros (I wish!)…no.  What did we buy…nothing but food.  And on, finally they decided we were not smugglers and wished us an au revoir and bonjournée.  Whew.

After arriving in Colmar, we decided a degustation was in order so we went to find the only winery in the city confines – Maison Jund (another of Anne’s suggestions). Tasted both a Pinot Blanc and a Riesling – both dry and mineral, the Blanc was a bit more fruity.  Bought a bottle of the Riesling to share with Betty’s sister, Jinny, in Provence.

The evening brought us to the Winstub Schwendi for roesti which we enjoyed very much at a little Swiss restaurant in Portland (also suggested by Anne).  So we ordered:

  • Le Roesti Forestiére (pommes de terre (shredded), champignons, jambon epaulé, sauce hollandaise, lardons)
  • Salade verte
  • Une pichet de Riesling

It was WAY too much food for me.  Betty made it through, but whew.  Back to the hotel to a bunch of work…seemed like every client was having issues or questions. However, gave me time to digest a bit before bed…

So, we close the visit to Colmar and Alsace…almost. Will post another with more pictures and a few notes.  The next major post…Lyon.

Bon Nuit…


Paul Cunningham said...

Danke. Fun to read.

Anonymous said...

Oh my word--your description of the wurst got my mouth watering...