When Swiss Cities Start to Look the Same

I realize that some of these trips are not in order. If you look at my personal calendar, which predates all the way back to August 2013, I have every major trip, class, test, meeting, and breakdown documented in my files. The previous post talked about Munich, but in reality, I went to Basel the weekend before! Perhaps I’ll start adding actual dates to these entries?

Regardless of my disorganization on this front, Basel was definitely one of the most spontaneous trips I took during my exchange. The night before departure, some of my friends and I wanted to take a day trip just to get out of Zürich. Same night, we were out till 3:00 partying on Langstrasse. So in our less-than-sober selves, Brandon, Will, Zach, and I, simultaneously bought Supersaver tickets to Basel.

Thus, not at the crack of dawn and closer to noontime, the four of us scurried to Zürich HB in spite of our throbbing heads. With little foresight on our activity, we followed our guiding saviour, Zach, and his supreme ability to navigate TripAdvisor, among other things. Stepping out of the main train station, we all concluded that Basel could be mistaken as Zürich 2.0. However, I would come to find my original interpretation of Swiss cities to be incorrect later in my travels. Our expat ignorance assimilated all trams and tramlines to be a defining factor in all Swiss cities. If you looked up on any major street, you’d see the thin wire that acts like a red string of fate, weaving the arteries of the town.


Tram passing through a square in Basel.

Our first stop was Basel Münster, a gorgeous red sandstone church across the Rhine River. You’d think that using the tallest building in the city would act as a good landmark, but you have also forgotten that my group of friends and I, we’re a little distracted. Weaving our way down the automobile-packed streets, we were surprised by the increased number of car users in the city. Then we remembered that Basel is in a unique location. If you walk 20 minutes north along the river, you’d find yourself in France. Another 10 minutes from there, in Germany. Basel is at the junction point between three countries: Switzerland, France, and Germany. I can only imagine what the transportation system must be like during rush hour. Then again, you’d have to visit the EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg to get a real taste of confusion. You’ll hear more about this beloved airport in my Denmark and Sweden adventures, but this airport is owned by the Swiss, housed by the French, and operated by the German.


Basel Münster in the Basel skyline across the Rhine River. Also pictured, the most confusing non-motor boat to travel across a waterway.

Even for the novelty, we had no desire to trek the 20 minutes to casually say that we had walked to France. Instead, we bought some food and ice cream(!) and sat by the river for a quick snack. Zigzagging through the city, we passed through Universität Basel and Kunstmuseum Basel. Although Saturdays back in North America are considered “bustling”, the same could not be said about Basel. Many shops and restaurants were closed for the afternoon, if at all according to the hours of operation sign. We had passed by the first-ever Chinese takeout place with the sign actually in Chinese! Excitement ensues for the rest of the trip.

Along the way, we had also passed by an interesting monument outside of a smaller church, Offene Kirche Elisabethen, just outside of Basel SBB. The pyramids reminded me of Le Lourve in Paris. The stark contrast between sizes definitely proved to be a difficult angle to shoot. As you can tell from the photo evidence below, my group of friends was definitely filling the “Asian tourist” role quite well.


Throughout the day of walking dangerously close to the river and contemplating the physics behind a motor-less boat, Zach and I were responsible of finding dinner options. Prior to our decision on Brauerei Fischerstube, Brandon and Will wanted chocolates. Our quick pit stop at Globus, also known as “the most expensive chain department store in Switzerland” (and quite possibly the WORLD), turned into an hour debate between the different types of chocolate available for purchase and appropriate wine pairings. To be fair, who puts champagne bottles in elevators? Having had a late night before and walking steps well over my daily goal, I needed a seat. So while the boys argued over perishable goods, I discovered my ability to blend into the Kinder Platz section. This statement will hold true in future destinations.


Enough said.

One of the most interesting buildings we happen to come across was completely unintended. Looking for warmth on a cool February day, the four of us pushed past a fancy-looking revolving door. The only reason we would have even looked twice at this building was because this was parked in front:


The entire parking lane in front of the hotel was car goals.

Needless to say, this wasn’t the most expensive car parked on the lot. We had just stumbled into Les Trois Rois and now understood the luxury of Swiss living. High cherry wood lined the walls with ceiling to floor mirrors. Exotic fauna and a stunning chandelier from a skylight at the centre of the foyer surround the intimate setting. A photo would not suffice in depicting the utterly gorgeous layout. Although Basel isn’t the typical tourist spot for Switzerland, I wouldn’t mind coming back for a night in this hotel.


Misaligned chandelier in Les Trois Rois, but still pretty!

With all of this said and done, the four of us finally arrived at Basel Münster. After walking for what felt like a century, we sat outside on a bench admiring the gothic architecture of the cathedral. We would have sat inside to admire the famous stained glass, but the doors close to visitors at 16:00. It’s a shame because I was really excited to climb the towers for an aerial view of the city! Regardless, Will and I made the most of this little setback and scouted for the perfect person to help us take a group photo! With weird angles aside (and missing tips), the photo was pretty cute. It’s quite obvious that we were inappropriately dressed, with one wearing a down jacket (too hot) and another wearing a light peacoat (too cold). Cute nonetheless.


Left to right: Brandon, Grace, Will, Zach. Outside of Basel Münster on a cool February afternoon.

Once we felt satisfied with all the photos of Basel Münster from all perspectives, the four of us complained about rumbling stomachs. Off to our final destination: Brauerei Fischerstube. This place was packed, but luckily, we had made a reservation while we strolled through the art galleries at Kunstmuseum Basel. Do you see the connections now? Even with the reservation, we waited a couple minutes for them to clear the table. The restaurant is famous for their in-house brew, but also Swiss comfort food. This was my first meal with my exchange friends (excluding some impromptu dinners in the flat) and true colours came out. Brandon is a vegetarian, Will is frugal, and Zach religiously sticks to recommendations. They realized that I am not a foodie in any sense. My friends back in Canada can testify. Guys, I just wanted a beer! However, they did find it strange how I conducted a Boomerang video with the phrase “in, out, in”. My philosophy? Pictures or it didn’t happen. (Kidding!)

The waiters were fairly fluent in English, but would highly recommend a German-speaker to accompany you for menu translations. Although I don’t remember the specifics of the dishes we ordered, I do remember the rich flavour of each item. The Swiss must be really active to be so fit with such heavy foods. The meats were lean and tender, the pasta cooked al dente. Even the beer had a bitter kick, but worked with the sauces by cutting through the fat. Overall, the meal was worth the pretty penny we paid.


19:30 reservation at Brauerei Fischerstube for 4, bitte. Danke schön!

Recovering from our food coma, we caught a later train back to Zürich HB. With our Gleis 7, we didn’t pay a cent. Perks of being a student! The quick trip to Basel was definitely a glimpse of the ease of travel within Switzerland. Hopping on and off a train within a heartbeat is quite liberating. With the SBB app, you can purchase the tickets right from your smartphone. The transportation system is well connected and catching the next train out is definitely easier than standing in the rain waiting for the TTC bus (shoutout to fellow Torontonians!). Including transportation, food, and entertainment, the quick trip to Basel cost less than 50CHF. A steal, really!

If you ever find your schedule cleared for a day, consider hopping on the next train and visit a nearby town in Switzerland. There are so many towns, villages, and mountain ranges within an hour train ride from any major city. Keep an open mind and loose pocket.

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