Hello from Basel! My parents have moved to Basel for a few years, so now they live in the heart of Basel… So, seizing this opportunity, I decided to jet out here for a month.
I got to Europe on Wednesday, on the redeye from SFO-Frankfurt. My flight was at 1pm, but as soon as you board, they serve you dinner and then you’re supposed to try and go right to bed — most of Europe is nine hours ahead of California. Luckily, I’m so sleep deprived that I can pretty much sleep at almost any time. Sleeping makes the 14 hour flight a bit more bearable. As do nice movies. And ice cream sundaes.
In any case, I made it from the Frankfurt airport to Basel without incident. My dad made a very nice video that detailed exactly how to walk to the train station in the airport.
Basel is a very easily digestible city. It’s pretty small, so within a few days, I felt pretty comfortable navigating myself around the ancient city streets. Yes, it’s not quite a grid, but everything is so close that eventually you end up where you’re trying to go anyway.
I started off my first day in Basel just wandering the city with Mom. Their place is in old town, which is pretty much a pedestrian area. One thing I quickly learned is that pedestrians pretty much have right of way over anyone… except trams. They won’t stop. But, cars and bicycles seem to go out of their way to stop for you, especially if you’re in a crosswalk. I witnessed two cyclists almost fall off of their bikes while coming to a screeching halt for a pedestrian today.
The town seems to be very proud of its secular roots, and throughout history there seems to have been a constant power struggle between the church and the craftsman guilds. So, it’s pretty cool to see how that whole thing kind of balanced out, in that the town is not centered around the church, but rather around city hall. Cool.
For a small city, Basel has some kickass museums. We visited Kunstmuseum Basel (like a 1/2 block from my parents’ place) and the Beyeler Foundation (which is just outside of Basel in Riehen). Kunstmuseum Basel is pretty good with several notable pieces from artists like Paul Klee (who I don’t really like), Monet and others. And, they seem to be cool with you taking pictures, which I *really* like. I really hate it when you can’t take pictures in a museum. I mean, yes, I get the “no flash” rule cuz it’s annoying and bad for the works, but really, if your exhibit is so lame such that you think that people won’t want to come see it if there’s photos online, then, uh, yah.. maybe you’re doing it wrong.
There’s a hanging lint piece that you should really see in person, cuz it’s gross and pretty at the same time.
Whereas at Foundation Beyeler, there’s a Basquiat exhibit, which I found to be just ok, I’m not a huge huge fan of Basquiat; I like a few of his things that he did with Warhol but that’s about it. But, I can’t show you photos, so maybe the mystery is preserved or something.
Basel sits at the corner of Switzerland, France and Germany. So, for the weekend, we decided to go international. Saturday, we went to Colmar, a lovely little French town with canals, colorful stucco’d buildings and lots and lots of Alsacian wine. It’s exceedingly cute.
Upon driving out of town, Dad spied a castle atop a hill in the distance, so we decided to try and find it. Aided by Google maps, we navigated our way to Bergheim, an ancient walled French town blooming with wildflowers, and bought four bottles of wine for like 16 euro. Damn, that’s cheap. We kept driving up tiny mountain roads until we came upon Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg, a huge castle that was restored in the early 20th century by Emperor Wilhelm II (when Alsace was part of the German empire).
Pretty sweet castle. We should build more castles in the states. And they even had a gift shop where they sold “Dennis” mugs, except in France they apparently spell it “Denis” — a spelling I do not approve of because of the simple fact that the only thing separating Denis from another, less appropriate word, is a small slip of your pen. But, I digress.
Sunday, we went to the Germany. When I was backpacking around in ’97, that was during the peak of my “Dennis wants to be a furniture designer” era, so I really, really wanted to make it to the Vitra museum. But, it was way out of the way from our trip, so sadly, I never got to go. 1997 Dennis got his wish on Sunday, and we went. Woohoo.
Ok, so the museum itself was a bit of a disappointment, actually. I’d seen all of the stuff before at the MoMa’s design floor, but what was super cool were the architectural buildings and then Vitra Haus, which was where they actually sold Vitra stuff. So, I got to run around the store and sit in everything, which is a lot better than walking around a museum being all quiet and NOT sitting in everything.
I finally got to sit in a Frank Gehry “Wiggle” side chair… for years, I’ve always seen it in museums and wondered what it would be like to sit in. Not bad.
The other cool thing about Vitra Haus was that they had the Eames Lounge chair & ottoman for like 10,000 EURO. Holy crap. But, why is that good? I’ll tell you why. Cuz for years, I’ve been contemplating buying an Eames lounger, so now, buying it for $4k from Room & Board seems like a great farking deal. Win. Maybe that can be my big 2010 present to myself. Now I just have to decide if I want it in white or black… Hmmm.
Monday night, I decided to play “if Dennis were a Basler” and joined up with an english-speaking running group called the Basel Dragons. At 6:30pm every Monday and Thursday, the Dragons meet at the Wettsteinebrücke (the bridge just south of the Middle bridge), on the Grossbasel side near the Kunstmuseum. Their clubhouse is INSIDE the base of the bridge, so that’s fecking awesome. They have showers and lockers and on Thursdays, for 10CHF they have a chef that will cook you food. There were about 30 of us on this fine, balmy evening, and they split us into three groups, based on speed. I was put in the slow group, which is probably fine since it was my first time running on my new knee anyway. And, it was cool cuz the people that I started chatting with just so happened to be fellow “blue groupers.”
We did about a 6 mile loop around the Rhein river at pretty much my normal pace, but near the end, I was starting to get a little sore in the knees. Man, I’m getting old or something. I should stick with biking. But, it was super fun, and I met a bunch of other English-speaking Basel-folk that I hope to run into again.
Tuesday was the supposed day of the Rheinschwimmeren, which is a huge annual event. But, because of the rains last week, the river is running a bit high and fast, so the “official” swim is postponed until next week. Lame. Since I’m not gonna be here next Tuesday, dad and I decided to have our own Rheinschwimmeren. Granted, it was about 1,000 less people than it would had been, and you don’t get a medal (made of real metal!) when you finish, but it was pretty fun nonetheless.
We entered on the Kleinbasel side after taking one of the cool river ferries across. The river ferries are pretty cool — there’s a big cable suspended across the river, and then the boat just moves side to side, propelled by the flowing river. It’s about as green as you can get.
Dad and I hopped in the fast moving water and immediately we were swept away in the current. After awhile, dad decided to get out because the water was a bit cold and he was cramping up, but I kept on going. I guess swimming in the Bay has conditioned me for cold water… or yah.. that must be it. Swimming in the Rhein is pretty easy, it’s not really “swimming” per se, but more like navigating — you still have to swim pretty hard at times to avoid things like buoys and anchored boats, but for the most part, especially with the bright orange Schwimmensack that I had bought from Migros, it was kinda like a big, fast raging river ride. Weeeee!
Tuesday night, we went to the Orange Cinema outdoor cinema in Munsterplatz. The nights here are ridiculously awesome. Warm, balmy and usually a light breeze. The only thing missing are lightning bugs, and it’d be just like a hot summer night in Ohio. So yah, in Munsterplatz they’ve set up a huge outdoor cinema that’s pretty cool. You go early and claim a seat with these placard things, and then have drinks at the bar. And then the give you FREE ICE CREAM. We saw Men Who Stare At Goats, which is an American movie that was not dubbed in German, so that was dope.
Wednesday, the movers finally arrived with the second shipment of stuff for the house. They spent all morning moving it up and unpacking it, and now my parents’ place looks a lot more settled. It’s a little weird to see some of the same furniture here in Switzerland though.
Even better, was that my bike arrived as part of the shipment. I put it together and went on a quick little ride around Basel and its environs. I rode to the French border — I didn’t have my passport, and even though they don’t really stop you, I decided not to chance it and just stuck a toe in France and turned back.
Here’s the Strava map of my ride.
Biking in Switzerland is pretty awesome. There’s tons of bike lanes and TONS of cyclists everywhere you look. Drivers seem to be quite aware of cyclists and everyone signals when they turn, which is pretty sweet. That said, the tram tracks are everywhere and (like for pedestrians) trams always have the right of way.
Anyway.. that concludes my week in Basel. Tomorrow we’re off on our roadtrip to Lake Como, Croatia, and Tuscany. More updates to come!