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Monday, 31 March 2008

Basel The Least Appreciated Swiss City

Switzerland In Summer

Basel, I was told by a visitor there, is the least appreicated city of switzerland. But he did not explain why. It is considered to be one of the wealthiest cities in the country, patron of arts, research headquarters of multi-national pharmaceuticals, full of historical museaums about its cultural pre-eminance in middle ages. Basel's borders with Germany and France and their cultural and linguistic heritage should have enriched the city, but I found the people more introverted than extroverted.

On the German border is the city of Freiburg im Breisgau, the capital of Black Forest. On the french border is the city of Mulhouse. Its railway is a gateway for trains from Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt and other european cities. There are easy connections with other major swiss cities too. The main city railway station is a hub of passenger activity and you can easily pass a few hours just watching the people, eating a snack or drinking a beer or a coffee. The prices though are high. A toasted sandwitch costs SF5.00.

My first impression of Basel was of a city in dismal state, East London in l960s. Derelict buildings which I thought were vacant, were occupied, roads in perpetual state of repair and traffic clogged motorway which leads you to the city center. Basel may be the wealthiest city in Switzerland but its residents go to France for their shopping in the supermarkets and to German towns for shopping for clothes and shoes etc. Switzerland is a very expensive country and Basel no less. A Bratwurst costs 1.50 Euro in Germany and in Basel 3.00 euros (CHF5.00). 100gms roasted chestnuts cost CHF2.00. The prices are double that in Germany and France. A cup of coffee CHF3.50 and in France and Germany CHF 1.50. When I was there we also went to Loerrach, the border town with Germany and to France for shopping. Swiss customs are sticklers for detail, one person is allowed to bring in only one kilo of meat, three litres of milk and so on, in the country.

But Basel is a quiet city, its tram network is perfect for going places and it is an efficient way of transport. In the city center is the Town Hall, renovated and quite popular, there is a daily fruit and vegetable market but there is not much variety of anything. But around the city hall are bars and restaurants and the majestic river Rhine which divides the city in two. From the Town Hall you walk a few hundred meters and are on the bridge leading to the commercial streets of the city.

The main attraction of the city is Barfuesserplatz (bare feet plaza), a hectic place and the Barfusskirsch (Church), which has been converted into a historical museum of Basel's pre-eminence of times bygone. What I liked most was the winding, steep streets full of small ethnic shops selling arts and crafts, jewelery and rugs, from India, Nepal, Tibet, Greece and many other places. We found a Spanish Tapa Bar but just looking at its menu and prices was enough to turn us away.

The old streets have names like Saddle Street, Tailor Street, Fish Market street etc. Just like in London, Brick Lane, Thread Needle Street, or in Spain where old streets were named Calle Camas (Beds) street, Calle BaƱos(Bath street) etc.

We first went to Basel in the summer of 2006. We traveled by road and from where we live in Germany, it is 660 km to Basel. It was not difficult to find where my son was living, it the street where the city railway station is. Mind you, the railway station for France and Germany is about 3 km away. But parking was a big problem, parking places limited for half an hour, two hours and places reserved for residents. In the night it was easy to park but before 8 0'clock in the morning ,I had to either move the car or feed the parking meter. And be on watch to move the car after two hours.

In the city center are many popular restaurants, our son took us to Papa Joe, famous for its Spare Ribs. The bar was full of young people, swinging to hard rock music. My wife and me were the only old couple and we were feeling out of place. After waiting for more than half an hour, we were given a table in a very busy restaurant. We all had Spare Ribs, the portions were large but the food was greasy and sat heavily on the stomach.It cost SF. 29.00 per plate. Next day we went to an Indian restaurant Called Bombay Restaurant. A very cosy place serving delicious food. By Swiss standards, the prices were not high, around SF30.00 per person. We went there many times during my repeated visits to Basel.

Accommodation is not cheap in Basel, shared room in YMCA was CH27.00 per bed per night. A double room (with 4 bunk beds) was CHF 75.00. There were two bed and breakfast hostels, rooms to share with 4-6 other persons was CHF.30.00 per night. But the places were untidy.
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