As you’ll know from my last post, the main reason we booked flights to Basel was actually to spend a night in France. However, we had to at least spend a day in Basel, because it would be rude not to, right? Especially given that Ash had never been to Switzerland before, we needed to check out the city we were actually flying to.
(Fun fact: Switzerland was actually the first country I ever visited! I was 13 and it was a trip with the Girl Guides. It felt slightly poetic to come back exactly twenty years later.)
Truthfully, there was nothing in particular that I wanted to do or see in Basel, which actually made me look forward to spending a day there with no pressure running around all the sights.
…and then I found out that you can walk from Switzerland to Germany to France in the space of about ten minutes, and obviously that became my priority.
We took an early train from Colmar to Basel, getting in just after 9am. Trains run really regularly and only take about 45 minutes, making it a really easy trip to take between the two. (It can also be very cheap! I booked our tickets in advance for 5€ each!)
Despite being a huge, “central” train station, Basel SBB is actually around a twenty minute walk from the main part of the city centre and the main bridge that links the city across the Rhine. In fact, the walk from Basel SBB to Dreiländereck, where the three countries meet, takes just over an hour, with a riverside path that I decided would be the most enjoyable way to reach it.
And so I had a plan – walk into town, grab a cup of tea and fill ourselves with breakfast to fuel the rest of the walk, which we could spread out over the course of the day as we wished. No pressure. Originally I had been thinking of hiring bikes from SBB station, but walking saved the hassle of worrying about cycling through the city centre.
What I hadn’t really considered was that it was a Sunday.
And early on a Sunday morning, everything was shut.
So we decided to just walk. I was sure there would be some places open along the riverside path, so when we couldn’t find anywhere open on the main streets, I wasn’t too worried.
Before we even reached the river, however, we stumbled across several things.
Firstly: a ridiculous statue. What is it? A horse? A dragon? A strange cow? We may never know.
We then passed some public toilets, with this curious sign which we then saw on all public toilets throughout the day. This must be their symbol for a urinal!!
Next up was this sign, which ironically was slightly hidden behind building slabs.
It says “we don’t need more successful peoples, we need more storytellers, urban gardeners, activists and lover all kinds” (sic). I totally agree. We need the magic injected into society.
And finally, we stumbled across a marathon just as it was about to start.
We had arrived in the main city square, Marktplatz, and got to experience it in a whole different light to usual. For one thing, it was packed. We didn’t even know if we could get through because of all the blockades, and we had to wait for the runners to start before we could cross through the square and out the other side.
I did manage to pop in to the town hall, although it was set up for registrations for the marathon and I felt a bit awkward going in there to take photos. So alas, I only got a couple, and really should have poked my head in later on for some more.
We then found some bagpipers, and excitedly followed the noise towards an empty stage and we were disappointed to realise it must just be a recording. But it didn’t sound like it, and I carried on around the back of the stage to find… an entire Scots pipe band!
We watched them for a while and I surprisingly got a bit emotional. Yesterday, we had found a non-mainstream local whisky in France, and today we were watching a full-blown pipe band playing Scotland The Brave in Switzerland! You can take the girl out of Scotland… BUT YOU CANNOT ESCAPE!
We ended up inadvertently following them across the bridge to the other side of the Rhine, where they headed off in one direction and we the other. Such a lovely moment to experience.
By now, I was getting desperate for a cuppa – or a drink of any sort, as we had arrived completely unprepared for even supermarkets to be closed – and we headed off in the direction of Dreiländereck, hoping to find something along the way.
Everywhere that I’d seen on Google Maps indicating an establishment likely to serve drinks and some sort of food, was actually a pop-up place or a food truck. Look up the route – every single one. None of them were open, although some of them were just starting to set up the chairs and tables outside.
The worst thing was, it wasn’t even that nice a walk. It started off as a pleasant meander through some trees, with marathon runners passing by and being cheered on or high-fived by kids – that part was lovely, actually!
The path quickly turned industrial and quieter. It felt like we were going out into the sticks, and the prospect of finding anywhere with drinks was getting less and less likely.
Eventually, after what felt like far longer than an hour’s walk, we reached a very curious park area with a massive boat – the Holzpark Klybeck. It’s the sort of place that looks like it would be fantastic on a summer’s evening, with bars and food areas and a lot of eclectic mess to look at. (I feel like “mess” is the best word here, although I described it as “haphazard” on Twitter which I think suits it too.)
In short, it was the kind of place I LOVE stumbling across.
And even better – there was a small stall open with a handful of people sat around with coffees. Perfect!
“I’m so sorry, the card machine is not working today. Cash only.”
This is possibly the first time, ever, that we have not had foreign cash on us. We hadn’t even passed a cash machine. Never have we ever been so unprepared.
Now I was getting grumpy. It was almost 11am and I hadn’t had any food, I hadn’t had a cup of tea, and we hadn’t had anything to drink since leaving Colmar. We’d been in Basel for almost two hours, and the one place we find open in the entirety of the city would only take cash.
And we were still over fifteen minutes away from the monument, let alone walking through Germany into France. It was, when you think about it like that, a bizarre predicament to be in!
So we persisted, and passed a nightclub boat, and we still weren’t there…
And then we got to a pretty marina, and we still weren’t there…
And then, eventually, we arrived at Dreiländereck.
By this point, I think Ash had had enough. There was an audible groan when I said I wanted to carry on to the German border, mostly because it involved us going back on ourselves (the monument is at the end of the docks), and because of the convoluted route, it would be yet another twenty minute walk, despite it being a stone’s throw away across the inlet.
Naturally, we ended up taking a slightly longer route too, as we weren’t sure if we could cut down alongside the docks, so we chose to cross back over the bridge to the dock and take the main road. (FYI, you can go alongside the docks and take the road up to the bridge over to Germany.)
We finally made it to Germany, and from there it was less than a ten minute walk to the marking point to France!
I don’t know what I was expecting from the borders, but there was a crossing point for Germany, which nobody actually needed to stop at. In fact, had it not been for that, you wouldn’t realise you were crossing into a different country at all.
That’s Switzerland behind me, Germany to the left and France to the right!
We crossed most of the Three Countries Bridge, and I’d been contemplating walking back along the other side of the river, but after our dehydrated and lengthy morning, we decided to get the tram back to the city centre.
…yes, it turned out there was a TRAM. Which I hadn’t even realised.
So, my advice – DO NOT bother walking to Dreiländereck. Hiring a bike would be the nicest way to get there, but otherwise you can get the tram quite easily.
However, I’m obviously glad we did it – there aren’t many places where you can simply walk between three countries in the space of ten minutes! Most places where three countries meet are cut off by a river (as is this, it just happens to have very convenient infrastructure) or a mountain or something.
But I was very, VERY ready for a cup of tea and a sit down. And we were hoping that by the time we got back into the city centre, a lot more places would be open.
Back in Basel
We wanted to find somewhere for lunch, and after finding ourselves back in Marktplatz, it appeared there were a few options. I couldn’t afford to be fussy, and I use that term deliberately, because we ended up eating somewhere very expensive, as is the Swiss way. It was part of the reason we had stayed in France – I figured getting lunch in Switzerland would be significantly cheaper than getting dinner in Switzerland.
We settled for Brasserie Baselstab, which by all means was very good, and our waiter was incredibly friendly and bubbly to everyone despite being absolutely rushed off his feet for the entire time we were there.
In fact, we ended up spending much of the afternoon there, especially after finding out that our flight home was delayed.
The square was still busy with marathon runners and their families meeting them afterwards, and a concert started while we were eating. It was great, actually, just sitting and being for a while, listening to a local band who were really good.
In fact, I’m pretty sure a runner from Glasgow came third! Once again, it seems you’re never too far from Scotland!
I also took loads of photos of the various trams going past.
Eventually, we peeled ourselves away from the café and headed back across the bridge to sit by the river – which turned out to be a very popular pastime for locals, and we really enjoyed our remaining time taking it all in.
I took a wander in the other direction to where we had walked earlier in the day, finding some great views across the river to Basel Minster.
This was exactly how I had pictured the walk to Dreilandereck to be: a lovely riverside path lined with bustling cafés. Well, it turns out they were all in the opposite direction!
Oh, and I also took a photo of a bin. Because they all have this sign on them.
In fact, this turned out to be our favourite part of the day. Not doing anything in particular – just soaking up the atmosphere (there wasn’t much sun to soak up, unfortunately!) and watching people float down the Rhine, which also appeared to be a popular pastime. Can’t quite imagine doing that in the Thames!
Despite not doing much or, really, experiencing much, we ended the day really warming to Basel. It’s most definitely a local city rather than a tourist city, but I liked that. It wasn’t busy – apart from the marathon – and it was pleasant to walk around the city centre itself.
We never did find a single open shop in Basel. I didn’t even get a postcard. In fact, open or not, I didn’t see any tourist shops whatsoever.
Yet it didn’t detract from anything we enjoyed about the city. It was pretty inconvenient literally not being able to get a drink anywhere for the entire morning, but it’s a lesson learned on our part (for one thing, we could have got something at the train station!). We still had a good time regardless.
And that, for me, is the magic of travel. You don’t need everything to be perfect, or have a list of things to see and do. Sometimes it’s about just being there, and finding yourself a part of it.