As you know if you’re not reading this blog for the first time, we’ve done a lot of house sitting in a lot of different places this year. So that has meant making quite a few choices about the places we want to go. Sometimes we pick a place because it seems like it would be a nice quiet getaway (Northleach, Abbey Dore, Normandy). Other times because we have never been before and we want to experience it (Bad Ischl, Kuala Lumpur). It could just be a place we know will have plenty for us to do in the area (Edinburgh, Castle Eden). Basel, on the other hand was not picked for any of those reasons. We picked it simply because it filled the necessary dates on our calendar, and was not too difficult to get to. While this isn’t the best reason to pick a place, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with it. To be completely honest, in the past if we had to make a list of the places we wanted to housesit, Basel would not have even made it close to the list. Now that may seem unfair but it’s not our fault. We had never been to it before but we had driven through a number of times, and it never really looked like much. What we found when we actually had a chance to explore was more than we would have ever expected.
Basel is definitely different. The beautiful images of lakes, mountains and rolling green countryside that Switzerland conjures in your mind are not exactly found here. The small city itself is all within Switzerland but it’s tightly squeezed between the borders with Germany and France so the edges of town are within those countries. From what we had seen before it was just a continuous mass of highways and industrial areas with chimney stacks and steam outlets atop factory-looking buildings, presumably manufacturing many of the pharmaceuticals that Switzerland is famous for. On our way there it took us three-and-a-half attempts to get off at the right exit, and get to the house. When we finally did get there we found it difficult to find parking. The restrictions within the city limits are so strict that we actually ended up parking across the border in Germany and just walking over. So, yes, now we can say we literally went to another country to save money on parking.
We were staying in Wettstein, an area that combines office and industrial buildings with residential housing. It’s clear that the residents have that well-known Swiss work ethic as it seems many of them work in the area and live just minutes away on foot. We also got our first taste of one of my favorite aspects of the city, the fountains you can discover almost everywhere. You can even drink from a lot of them. The area was nice because it was just a short walk to the old town which spans the Rhine with the Altstadt GrossBasel (Large Old Town Basel) to the south and the Altstadt Kleinbasel (Small Old Town Basel) to the north.
Altstadt GrossBasel is the main area for tourists. There are a number of large museums and churches to visit and lots of restaurants, food stalls, and shops - all mostly overpriced for our taste in large part due to the Swiss Franc exchange rate. We actually spent a lot of time looking up and around to find the best sights. The colorful roofs, amusing sculptures, and interesting architecture are all kind of hidden behind the noise, you have to work for it. So it didn’t really charm us at first but slowly became better. It was fairly busy too. People lined the sidewalks and pedestrian areas and there was even a protest march going on while we were there. We had no idea what they were protesting; it was confusing.
Altstadt Kleinbasel seems to be the more bohemian and eclectic area. It felt a little less touristy and a little more real, but it was just as busy and urban as the Grossstadt. The crowd seemed a bit younger and rowdier, and there was fun art along the tiny back streets. There wasn’t as much to be seen but I imagine I would spend more time here if I lived in Basel.
The riverfront is perfect for walking, biking, or just relaxing. It was filled with people resting on the banks and drinking from the many pop up bars along the riverwalk. All ages and types were sitting along the steps leading into the water and taking in the sunset. We even saw a very naked man in what was almost definitely not a nude area sunbathing, but it’s Europe so at this point it seems normal.
We didn’t experience that much else in Basel. Completely our fault, we just didn’t put enough effort into getting out further. We never felt that inspired, I guess we just weren’t feeling the city. We did take a few lessons away from Basel though. One, obviously, never judge a book by it’s cover. At the same time, and maybe for the first time, we didn’t really fall in love. Sometimes that happens and it’s fine. It was definitely still a nice experience we just had a few things that made it not our favorite. Basel felt like it was all business. This created a few problems because it seemed every restaurant and store closed at 6:00pm so there wasn’t much to do any later than that. The prices in Switzerland obviously are more than we are used to so we didn’t really go out to eat at all and honestly did most of our shopping across the border in Germany. The parking was seriously impossible which is so rare, normally you can find some hidden open place to park but not here. To top things off we found that our phones, being so close to so many towers in three different countries and roaming on foreign networks would be constantly switching dropping data or completely overheating and crashing. I guess this was also a good thing because we discovered how to fix our phones to one network to prevent that problem.
All was not bad of course. We had a really comfortable place and it was nice being so close to everything. We had a great time with the cats Oscar and Ron (Swanson) and spent most of the week hanging out with them in the apartment. They are very soft bundles of excitement and it would be hard to find two easier or friendlier cats. Like a lot of cats each evening their energy levels surged and they tore around the open plan apartment playing, it was very amusing. While we were there we also got a lot of work done, we must have been inspired by the Swiss spirit of productivity. So even without being charmed by the city we still had a good time and do not regret our visit. Maybe on a return trip we would take the time to get out more and experience more of the city and the surrounding area.
The Roaming Blog
From Europe to Asia. From cities to villages. From mansions to cottages. Follow us on our journey as we celebrate a new type of travel - House Sitting. Learn how to start you house sitting career, tips for making the most of your travel, and the tricks for being the best house sitter you can be.
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