Now, my first mistake was wearing brand new shoes for a day walking around a hilly city, fortunately I was on my own so wasn't able to whine about my sore feet like a little girl.
It was soon apparent that Basel is a slightly strange city - one might say a city of contradictions. As you drive into Basel you are surrounded by large factories and enormous bellowing chimneys. The highway then dips under the city for a few miles before spitting you out into one of several underground parking lots - I figured the one called 'City' would be a safe bet (I'm now close to perfecting the comedy/camp run around the car to the ticket machine that's on the wrong side for a UK right hand drive Honda - it never fails to raise a smile from the driver behind - they do love laughing at 'Les Anglais' over here).
So I leave the car in the ultra clean car park (there is a guy wandering round with a hose and a brush cleaning the already clean floor) and take the shiny glass elevator to ground level. Here I find myself in a Barbican-like concrete jungle, complete with immaculately tended gardens, to find everyone wearing white plimsolls (just like school PE ones), white trousers and a white jumper! EVERYONE! The only people wearing anything else were a group of trainee gardeners, in safety neon overcoats, who give me a strange look for being dressed in a grey winter coat, blue jeans and (already painfully new) brown trainers. What the.....?
As my internal battle rages between turning & running and a desire (morbid curiosity) to explore this city from the 1960's/2060's, I notice a sign that says something like "Citeschúlehospitalishaftsgung". Which, from my years of studying German, I have no idea what it means. However my brain was so desperate for an answer that it decided I must be in an enormous training hospital. Eventually finding a sign for the Marktplatz I quickly walked that way. After a few minutes of weaving my way around ultramodern 50's blocks I finally emerge to the slightly more pleasant sight of the Rhine.
As the Rhine passes through the middle of Basel it is still nearly 400 miles from reaching the ocean in Holland, however the river doesn't seem to have realised this and it's already pretty enormous - certainly a lot larger than, say, the Thames as it passes Limehouse. It's from hear that I have the first real view of the city. I have to say, at this point I regret not bringing a camera, but for the sake of demonstrating a little of the contradictions here are a couple of 'google image' pictures from close to where I was standing showing the view in both directions along the Rhine:
I felt I'd already had enough concrete for one day so I headed for the old town with its museums, cathedrals and, hopefully, shops that sell more than just French bread and haircuts.
As I walked along the streets into the old town, one of the first things that struck me was a cyclist. Actually lot's of cyclists. Fortunately I use the term 'struck' in the metaphorical sense and I wasn't the cause (or the target) of a 2 wheeled pile-up. Now, I've recently gotten back into cycling both commuting while I was in London and for fun/fitness in my spare time (something I'm enjoying immensely in the Alsace and will doubtless be the subject of some future blogwittering). What caught my attention in Basel though was just how many normal people were on bikes (despite me clocking a thermometer at -4 Celsius) dressed in casual winter clothing (I'd escaped the white plimsoll gang by then) going about their everyday business as if it was the most normal thing in the world. I really do hope that the trend for more cycling in cities like London and Manchester continues to grow beyond the urban-warrior/spandex/power-ranger clan that I embarrassingly count myself amongst.
Then, after wandering around the usual mixture of cathedrals (Erasmus is buried in one) and shops (I very nearly brought some over-priced walking boots in the Mammut store), I decided to stop for lunch.
I managed (not without a little temptation) to avoid the inevitable McDonald's and Starbucks offerings of this historic town and chanced upon a small café above a bakery on one of the side streets. I sat down and read the menu, this didn't take long as there we're only 2 dishes available each day - one meat and one veg option. Obviously I decided to go for the meat option which was a sort of French Sheppard's Pie called hachi parmentier, a dish I know and like. A couple of minutes later the waitress comes over and fortunately speaks excellent English, as I found everyone to in this German (with a very weird accent) speaking part of Switzerland. "unfortunately sir, I am out of the meat and I only have the veg left", hmmmm, don't know what it says and the waitress can't translate it: "it's vegetable" is all she can offer. Ahh well, it's the same price as the meat dish (about £10) so it must be fairly substantial "ok, I'll have the vegetables and a coke".
5 minutes later I am presented with a small bowl of lettuce. And a coke. And nothing else. There must be more coming, there must be, I'll eat my lettuce reaaaalllly slowly whilst I wait for her to bring whatever is supposed to come with it. 10 minutes of slowly munching lettuce later and I've nearly finished, and nearly finished deciding how strongly I'm going to refuse to pay £10 for a small bowl of lettuce. I eat the last bit and catch the waitress' eye. Then, just as I'm about to mutter the words "There is a problem", a large dish of veg casserole arrives in front of me from waitress clearly wondering why I've taken so long to eat my lettuce starter. Ahhh, that's better - thank god she put that down before I started mouthing off!
So; a good lunch, a new city explored, back home for a bike ride, some pasta and an episode of the Tudors (which Anne-So is addicted to) and that's my day done.
Thank you for listening and I hope I've not bored you senseless.