We visited Basel two weeks back (time really flies). We had decided to take the ICE train; from Amsterdam Centraal Station the train ride to Basel was approximately six hours. We spent our time talking about everything under the sun, gazing at the countryside, playing cards, Avocado Smash and Story Cubes. Hours, which we thought would weigh heavy, slipped easily. The ability to walk across the train, grab a cup of tea, along with the thoughtful seating arrangements (facing each other) ensured that the journey was far better than sitting in the cramped quarters of an airline. That along with skipping security checks made me feel absolutely glad about our decision to take this longer, but much more relaxed route.
Our hotel – Gaia, was conveniently located next to the station. We checked in with relative ease and were glad to find that our room was not only spacious, but included two full bathrooms. Something we have learnt to appreciate now that we travel with an-almost-teenager. I will tell you more about the hotel in the next post.
Our main attraction for selecting Basel for our 4-day mini holiday were the Christmas markets. Just Google the pictures, you will be mesmerised by their exquisite hues. Over the years, we have seen several markets in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany. However, we had not visited one in Switzerland and Basel has not one, but three markets: the largest is on Barfüsserplatz in the old town, a new market next to the cathedral on Münsterplatz, and a smaller market on the right bank of the Rhine on Claraplatz. These markets are known to be some of the biggest and most impressive in Europe.
The Basel markets were indeed pretty, but in comparison to the ones we have been to e.g. the one at Deventer, they paled in comparison. Don’t get me wrong Basel is a beautiful city, the Market square with the red Rathaus was exceptionally charming. There are chocolate shops and quaint corners in the Old City area. Yet, the primary reason why we were there turned out to be disappointing. The shops were overpriced, especially the food: a grilled stick of beef for 18 euros, churros for 8 euros, potato pancakes for 16 euros, understandably Switzerland is an expensive place to visit, still the outrageous figures weren’t justified – surely not for what they had on offer!
I also felt that the markets there lacked a certain warmth that I have come to expect in Christmas markets. Let me give you an example: today, we visited the Christmas market in Museumplein in Amsterdam. Bambi wanted to eat churros. Lo behold while handing over the packet one single darling of a churro fell out and landed plop into sludgy gravel. The shopkeeper looked at me, smiled, and handed me a replacement. It was a small gesture. I grinned from ear-to-ear. What a world of difference an act of kindness makes! I did not sense this in Basel, not one bit, the retailers in the market were cut and dry, quite precise, and certainly unwilling to hand back exact change. I fail to understand how can you be like that especially around this time of the year?!?
Furthermore, it was packed till the rafters. There was barely room to move. It seemed that everybody had the same idea as us. No harm there, of course the spirit of the season is the more the merrier, but folks had no qualms spilling drinks, stepping on toes, and using that ultimate elbow shove (mastered by Lajpat Nagar aunties bargaining for the best price on plastic table cloths). Not nice at all, especially not for an anxiety-ridden person like me. Nope!
Still, we landed up having a good time, not because of the markets (we gave up on those after our first night out), but mainly due to the city itself, which had much more to offer. The long walks through the Old City had a magical air, the area around the Basel Minster was straight out of fairy tale books. We visited the Natural History museum, which houses the famous mummy of Anna Catharina. Oh the joys of a grand old horror story!
A visit to the Basel zoo made us catch the penguins taking their leisurely morning walk, we went to the Kunstmuseum, which blew my mind, and so much more. So, take this journey with us through our days in Basel as I share with you our pictures and anecdotes.
In the post of Day One you will see images from the market, of things that caught my eye. Our night walk through the Old Town and the view of the River Rhine from there. The Rathaus and the town squares along with the yummy meal we ate at Mister Wong. In the next post I will share more so don’t forget to join us for our Basel experience.