Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A quick write up about Basel.

This was about a week ago now, but I wasn’t able to get around to posting anything until now, for various reasons.

Basel, (or Bâle in French) is only a couple of hours away by train, and is in fact the terminus of the Alsace commuter train network.

Sadly, my ambition to get another stamp on my passport was not met – there was a customs point, but there was no stamp. In fact, the guard didn’t even look to see what nationality our passport was from. Presumably they operate on the principal that complete neutrality makes all foreigners equal in their mind. Also, that no foreign government could possibly care if you went to Switzerland.

In high spirits, we made our way down to the centre ville. Jon and Amynah had great fun with my assertion that I knew exactly how to get to the downtown, despite never having been in the city before. I, in turn, had great fun when I was right.

However, amidst all our joking and laughing, we began to feel uneasy. There was something strange about Basel… something… quiet. Despite the fact that the streets were fairly busy, silence reigned. In fact, most people were giving us scowling looks as we passed by. We had entered The City of Librarians, and stood the risk of being violently shushed at any moment.

Which is not to say the place lacked colour. Oh, the sites we saw! The Rathaus, (city hall) is, as you can see, a bright red. You’d think this would be a sign of some sort of barely-suppressed Swiss funkiness – “Like heck we’ll live up to our stereotypes – look at our city hall?” Then we went inside the courtyard. Within were a number of bikes, presumably belonging to the employees. Each one was lined up as neatly as cutlery in a Martha Stewart Living spread. NOT ONE HAD A LOCK (cue Twilight Zone music here).

So, moving on, we went to the waterfront. The Rhine bisects Basel into the main city and Klein Basel (little Basel) on the German side. Typically, the Rhine here is apparently clean enough to swim in during the summer. We caught a cable ferry which took us across the river. Unable to decipher the fare, we simply held out handfuls of Swiss Francs to the ferryman could take what he wanted. Needless to say, he gave us exact change.

Mid-river we caught our first glimpse of Abominable Eye of Swiss Neutrality. It reminded me of the Martian machines from War of the Worlds, only colourful, Swiss, and presumably harmless. For fun, I’m not going to explain what it actually was – but I’ll send a postcard to whoever sends me the a) closest guess and b) most amusing theory. Jon is excluded from this, but he apparently only reads this thing when he’s about to visit, so no worries there.

We checked out the cathedral, in which we saw the final resting place of both Erasmus (the guy who invented the typo) and Bernouli (the guy who invented flight. Or currents. You people all have access to Wikipedia – look it up yourselves!) In the crypt area, in addition to all the memorials to all the dead people, we also found a memorial to the Great Vegetables of Basel. I’m not supplying an explanation for this one simply because, well, I cannot for the life of me determine why anyone would make a giant cast-iron vegetable buffet in a church crypt. It’s beyond parody, really.

Not put off by the blindingly high prices (I saw a watch on sale for the equivalent of $20,000 Canadian in one of the shop windows) Amynah went shopping, finishing the day with approximately 20 lbs of fine Swiss chocolate. Jon and I, discovering that the main local museum was closed, wandered around randomly.

At one point, in search of the Pharmacology Museum, we found the old city gate.The doors don’t work anymore, making it a big hit with fans of British comedy. Why?

Because it’s Basel’s Faulty Tower of course.


TWebb said...

Jon, if you do read this blog let me tell you that is one hell of a beard you've got going there.
Don't even think about it, Mark.

Anonymous said...

The beard is no more. Lindy said something about it reminding her about her uncles. The rest is history. Some of my new colleagues at work didn't recognize me the next day.

Yes, this is evident that I infrequently check Mark's blog.