Switzerland: Heading North to Basel Is a Breeze

A trip to Basel brings you into contact with everything lovely about this wealthy European country.

Fellow columnist Shirley Mueller, MD, warned readers in October, 2015 to Use Caution When Booking International flights.

We, in turn, are still trying to deal with today’s airlines in Europe. Iberian Airlines, for example, really disappointed us: it charged us $80 for bulkhead seats then changed planes to ones that had no bulkhead seats but it declined to reimburse us. Vueling Airlines, in turn, canceled its last flight of the day for mechanical reasons from Barcelona in Spain to Bordeaux in France then gave us later complicated reasons suggesting it was weather. At the airport we were told it was a mechanical issue so Vueling kindly provided a hotel for the night but left us with the largest cab fare we have ever had to pay in Europe (150 Euros) needed to get us to the second day of our river cruise. Travel companies are no better: We would never use Expedia again. Expedia typed in Nancy’s name as “Nacy” and added an erroneous “e” to her middle name Ann, then refused to correct the error unless we paid $400 to correct their mistake (in the end we paid LOT Polish Airlines directly $97 for the Expedia incompetence) and we are still fighting those three institutions for restitution.

Having suffered those airlines that struggle to bring Americans to Europe it has always been a pleasure to discover national rail services like Deutsche Bahn and particularly the Swiss Travel System and its parent Switzerland Tourism that make travel easy.

The train takes a mere two-and-a-half hours — in comfort -- from near the French border of Switzerland to its northern edge with Germany. We found a direct trip that did not requires us to change in Bern. Piece of cake – or should we say Swiss Roll?

The route did not give us much of a view of mountains but we saw plenty of charming villages.

As we had heard the transaction to the tram service of the city of Basel was seamless. We had reservations with Swissotel, Messeplatz 25, and saw to our pleasure the hotel’s message that the reservation also gave us transportation on the Basel city transportation system. The reservation gave us precise directions as to how we would go from the train station to the tram service and exactly where we would get off. Advice as welcome as a free bar of Lindt chocolate!

We knew which attractions we wanted to see in Basel from its impressive medieval medical institutions to several of its memorable museums and had already received from Basel Tourismus email copies of Google maps that showed our routes to their attractions from our hotel and even routes to its recommended restaurants. We had lunch at a long-established local modern restaurant called Volkshaus, which we thought simple and stark but with excellent food — and that’s what is important. It had art like tapestries hanging in the corridor to the toilets.

The restaurant Volkshaus.

We passed the Restaurant Gifthüttli on our route back to the hotel and noted it was on our Google map, too, but we didn’t think we would be stopping at Burger King this trip, not in elegant beautiful Basel.

Within a day in Basel the visitor discovers how proud the Swiss are to have orderly, clean, and well maintained cities. It is a wealthy country and, in contrast to many European countries, they put in a good week of albeit white-collar work. Basel is proud how clean it has kept the Rhine river: “Our people can swim in it — and they do!” they exclaim. They are pleased their ancient public buildings like the Town Hall, the Rathaus, has been maintained so well and look so good.

The clean river Rhine. The Rathaus with fresh vegetables every day except Sunday, and the City Hall located here ever since the 14th century.

A statue of Lucius Munatius Plancus, the founder of Basel stands imperiously in the city hall. Plancus was a high-ranking Roman and an officer under Julius Caesar during the conquest of Gaul, a complicated time in Roman history.

Lucius Munatius Plancus statue. A consul of Rome, he died in Gaeta in central Italy in 15 BC.

16th century Basel Town Hall. The upper inscription reads: Hie Schweiz Grund und Boden; Here begins Swiss land at the Town Hall of Basel. The lower inscription is more mundane. It announces “RENOVATUM ET AMPLI FICATUM ANNO DOMINI MDCCCCI" means simply means: "Renovations done in Year 1901."

Visitors turning away from medieval buildings may see the true look of Basel architecture: a clean, uncomplicated, almost austere and functioning style that is very refreshing after any grand tour of Europe.

The charming simple style of Basel streets.

Our guide, Rudolf Suter, had shown us several of Basel’s museums and given us full descriptions of all we’d seen. But as we walked out of the town hall almost late for our final museum we noticed a beautiful antique cupboard on a landing. Rudolf knew the drill by now. All we had to do was raise our eyebrows.

“Sixteenth century,: he said, glancing at his watch.

“And its significance?” one of us asked. Again he looked at the time and said, “They placed it here inside the building because they just didn’t know where else to put it.”

We just made it to the museum in time.

A cupboard from the 16th century in the Basel Town Hall.

Photography by the authors.

The Andersons, who live in San Diego, are the resident travel & cruise columnists for Physician's Money Digest. Nancy is a former nursing educator, Eric a retired MD. The one-time president of the New Hampshire Academy of Family Physicians, Eric is the only physician in the Society of American Travel Writers. He has also written five books, the last called The Man Who Cried Orange: Stories from a Doctor's Life.