Basel is located in the NW corner of Switzerland near France and Germany. The airport is actually in France and is shared with Mulhouse a French town about 30 minutes north. The airport has two sets of immigration and customs, one for Switzerland and one for France. Once outside on the Swiss side, you can only drive down a road to Basel, surrounded on each side by France. On one visit twenty years ago, the Swiss did not have daylight savings time and so the airport was effectively operating in two different time zones for half the year. Now that was confusing! The Swiss have since adopted DST. I also understand that they are again going to vote on whether to join the UN.
Monday night we had a Cheese Fondue dinner with lots of wine and chocolate. Lily and Peter’s son Dominic, his wife Andrea and son Luca joined us for dinner. During dinner we were talking about chocolate and I mentioned all the Belgian Chocolate shops in Vancouver that I frequented. They decided that their mission this week was to convince me that Swiss chocolate was the best in the world and that I would then consider Belgian to be no higher than number two! Hmm, I am not sure I am convinced yet and still need some more before I am sure!
Besides the copious amount of wine, cheese, chocolate and other great food that I have been consuming, we have managed to fit in some sightseeing. The weather has been unseasonably warm and so we have taken advantage of it to explore Basel, Lucerne, and Biel in Switzerland and Colmar in the Alsace region of Eastern France, just north of Basel.
In Basel, we visited the Cathedral, walked along the Rhine and the main downtown area, and visited the Jean Tinguely museum. This museum houses the largest collection of his work. He was a native of Basel and is known for his moveable art, most made from scrap metal and other discarded materials. It really is quite something to see. His wife Niki de Saint Phalle has made large statues covered in small colored mirrors including a set of totem poles. It also has to be seen as I cannot do it justice using words. Check out http://www.tinguely.ch
for more details.
The trip to Lucerne included a train ride up Rigi mountain overlooking Lake Lucerne and looking at the Alps. The clouds were high enough to allow us a clear view of the range. Rigi mountain is like a pyramid rising up in the middle of Lake Lucerne, and Zug and offers a 360 panorama of the surrounding country. Quite something to see.
Lucerne is primarily a tourist town located below Mt. Pilatus. It is definelty worth a visit despite all the tourist traps around. Biel (Bienne) straddles the German/ French language line. The town is bilingual, but the road signs change from German to French and back again within a few kilometers, so a drive around town is accompanied by a lesson in languages. This is also the watch making capital of Switzerland and headquarters for many famous brands of watches such as Rado. Other brands including Rolex have factories there.
We had lunch at a restaurant near the lake of Biel and had a spectacular view of the Alps over 90km away. We could see from East of the Eiger and Jungfrau all the way to the French Alps. Even the Swiss were remarking on what a clear view it was of the Alps.
Colmar in Alsace is very different from the towns in Switzerland. The buildings are late 1300s and have large wooden beams on their outside walls, making characteristic patterns seen in most of the buildings. The entire town is one giant museum.
The Alsace region has been a part of Germany or France through its history and so the people are bilingual. The region includes Strasbourg to the north, which is the seat of the European Parliament. The main local specialty is sourcrout with Ham and sausage and Munster cheese (as well as Alsatian Wine!), and so again I ate too much at lunch time. I have one more day in Switzerland and then it is off to Venice, Rome and Florence over the next two weeks.
Many thanks again to Lily and Peter for all their hospitality for the last week.