One Day in Basel on a Budget

I was staying in French town Colmar, when I decided to spontaneously take a day trip to Basel, Switzerland, which was less than an hour away by train. Everyone is aware of how expensive Switzerland is, and my pockets never really accounted for the Swiss Alps whilst I was on holiday, but I thought I could squeeze in a day to see sights in the metropolitan museum paradise of Basil.  I got my train ticket for approximately €22 and eagerly awaited what would greet me on the other side.

As soon as I arrived, I couldn’t believe I was in another country in less than an hour! I’m used to taking long haul buses to different countries which take excruciatingly long sometimes and are more tiresome, but this was the first time I had simply popped on a train across country lines. I could barely believe it had been so quick until I popped into the train station shops, saw it was €8 for simple sandwiches, and then I knew I couldn’t be anywhere else.

I made my way out and got an all-day tram ticket for €9.90 and because I am used to London prices, I felt this was fairly reasonable. The carriages were all different to my surprise, and I learned the trams are operated by two providers, BLT and BVB, with the latter crossing into Germany. Yes, this is a truly international city, as you could be working in Switzerland, wining and dining in France that evening and cross over to you house in Germany, after having a cold beer there.

Photo by Nextvoyage on Pexels.com

As I was taking in the views, I realised this is a city never struck by war and houses have been preserved to near perfection as a result. It feels like you’ve stepped in time and whilst other European small towns may have that feel, it is usually smaller towns instead of a whole country, including its metropolitan cities. Rows upon rows of houses with colourful exterior window shutters and carved patterns appeared beyond my eyes. Even the police station had a whimsical old timely feel.

It was a Monday when I went and this is where some foresight would have helped. Everything I wanted to see was closed…except for that one museum which was the furthest away. As my plans of seeing the Kunstmuseum (a fine arts museum and heritage site) could not happen, I ventured further afield to the Fondation Beyeler, which has built a reputation in modern art and is free if you’re under 25, which I gladly took advantage of. Personally, I found the current exhibitions on display to be predominantly lacklustre and uninspiring. The exhibition was on Resonating Spaces when I went in January 2020, but these are constantly changing.

There were a few interesting ideas, with an acoustic display filled with varying conch shell sounds of the ocean. This seemed like an innovative, thoughtful idea, however, the execution for me fell a little flat as they all sounded very similar to me. There was an exception in the art work of Toba Khedoori, an artist of Iraqi heritage and winner of the McArthur fellowship. Her use of depth and perception in her sketches allowed for meaningful questions to be posed and pondered through her skillful artistic abilities.

A vibrant colourful almost surreal display opposite, in Sarasin Park, caught my eye far more. These beautiful playful sculptures appeared to be dancing amidst the trees and there was harmony with the art and nature. It was gated so unfortunately I could not go in to explore further, but I appreciated my thirst for beautiful art was quenched.

After I had taking in some of the fine arts, I trammed my way back into town to a fiery red sandstone building. Built in the 16th century, this rathaus (city hall) proudly stood right in the middle of the marketplatz. It is an imposing structure with gorgeous golden detail and detailed frescoes painted on the surfaces. It remains the seat of government for the Canton of Basel-Stadt even today. If I was a politician in Basel, I would look forward to going into work every day and the splendour would never cease to amaze me. Although the have tours of the place, these are only at certain times and days so I did a small tour (and photoshoot!) by myself in the entrance area.

My tummy began to signal it was lunch time and I searched for a place that might have reasonably prized, authentic Swiss food. Then I gave myself a reality check after longingly gazing at some menu boards serving fondue, telling myself I’ll be back in the country one day, so treated myself to a falafel wrap for €12 at La Sofra instead. This was a bargain considering the prices in the surrounding area, and it kept me full for a long time. I hydrated myself for free with the refreshing, pure water from one of the 314 elegantly crafted fountains. Fittingly, Basel is known as the city of fountains, because of this.

After lunch, I took in views of the Rhine river which runs through the city, walked across the symbolic Mittlere Brücke (Middle Bridge), strolled around a very quiet Munsterplatz (cathedral square), before going into the Basel Munster where famed scholar Erasmus is buried. Noted as the most famous architectural sight in Basel, the minster was built between the 11th and 14th century, in the Romantic and Gothic style, and is topped with colourful tiles, similar to the ones seen in Budapest. It is now a reformed Protestant church, originally having been Catholic.

Views along the Rhine

Nearby is the most famous viewpoint of the Rhine River, the platz. I thought I should at least get some pretty windswept pictures out of the finger biting cold. The views were serene, with the river calm below. I strolled around the city for a while, walked along the Rhine, up some steep narrow roads as I soon found out could give my gym back home a run for its money and stumbled upon the Gate of Spalen. Regarded as the most beautiful gates of Switzerland and part of the ancient walls of Basel, dating back to 1400, the gates felt like crossing under them would lead you to Rapunzel’s castle.

I decided I had roamed as a tourist for long enough and couldn’t be in Switzerland without trying their world famous chocolate so of course I went to Confiserie Beschle to sample some luxury to delight my taste buds. Beschle began in 1898 and I ordered a hot chocolate and a decedent chocolate bomb that was essentially smooth creamy rich chocolate encased in a hard shell of chocolate! It was so indulgent, so I was glad I was prepared to settle into my seat with a good book and took of my layers that were keeping me warm on the other side of the door.

It was almost time to go back, so I went to the station, after checking out the Markethalle of world foods. Reminiscent of most food halls with eateries from around the world, I found this to be a similarly pleasant indoor space, with live music gigs and workshops in some of the spaces within the building. I boarded my train soon after, expected for my passport to be checked on route like it had been in the morning, but it had surprisingly not been. I said au revoir and auf wiedersehen to Basel.

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