If you’re lucky to meet an English speaking Swiss couple in a park and start chatting, you might find out some secret information. We asked the hotel person, who said go to the rail people, who simply asked if we were old or students, and the information folk didn’t know. But our park adventurers did, and maybe you knew as well.
“It’s the Post Office stupid” – that’s where you get a ‘24 hour rail pass’ (as well as hearing aid batteries, if you need them). The 55 Swiss Franc 2nd class had run out … but they still had a CHF 83 1st class – superb. This was the only way I would ever go for the more expensive option, especially in this country.
A carriage with a special lounge area and nearly all to ourselves, except for another couple our age and the extremely happy ticket collector woman. Sensational, and we would have time to stop for a few hours in Bern – the political capital, where the people decide how the country is run, not the government (more detail at another time).
What a beautiful and peaceful city, encircled by the swift flowing glorious river Arne. Water enthusiasts bob by on a rubber dingy, while surfers tie a string-line from their boards to a bridge which then pulls them strongly against the current. Others stroll across the river’s ancient bridge while we parked ourselves in a closed outside restaurant high above the waters’edge – another first class bargain.
A return stroll back through the long and wide ‘pedestrian/tram only’ main avenue, brought many delights. Because the sun seems to live in this street, a covered walkway provides relief and relaxation. Between the many stone pillars on the mall side of the walkway, there is usually something interesting. There might be a couple of tables and chairs for cafe clients, for optician customers to sit, or a built-in bench for anyone. Chairs and books will be there for a browse, plants or shrubs may also decorate, while the ubiquitous bike waits patiently and safely unlocked, just because it trusts Switzerland.
Trustworthy water flows from the statuesque fountains that appear more often than your thirst, so a cupped hand becomes a weightless water bottle. This was not enough time for Bern because it was only a train stop but it was enough to whet our thirst for a possible return taste.
Our carriage lounge arrived at the platform on time; other guests similar in number. Speeding through the same exquisite scenery, we were soon in Basel. Known for its huge pharmaceutical industry, it also rates highly in cultural terms. The Kuntsmuseum offers important works of art in varying locations, one straddling a small creek that adds slightly to the strong flow of the river Rhine. A small lily pond provides yet another Swiss water feature to Foundation Beyeler at the end of a very long, smooth and quiet tram ride from Basel’s old city.
The much wider Rhine offers water pleasures as well. A Chinese junk can take you across its banks tied to a high cable preventing it from being swept well down river. However if you want to be swept along, put on a life jacket and hire a floating apparatus and the river will take you swiftly and coolly along one of its banks. A designated path is needed as the river’s long low tankers and occasional speedboat take up the bulk of the water’s space. Others, as in Bern, choose to float about on the calm edges or sun bake on its narrow rocky edges.
If you choose to stroll along its banks you can watch all of the river’s pleasures mostly on tree shaded paths. When that runs out, what looks like a private riverside path takes you down to the river level. This one-person-wide path has the water lapping over it in places, but only enough to raise your awareness a little. When you begin to think maybe this is a very wealthy person’s access to their precious piece of Rhine water, an opening appears.
This takes you on a small cliff-load of stairs to a huge plaza above.
In the shade of the huge plaza’s red stoned cathedral, three violin buskers carve out some divine music. A dozen children, not far away, were also playing, and splashing in the nearby fountain, their parents content in the knowledge that this gave them free time to listen to the musicians.
I eventually arrive at the tram and bus station. It is really just a loop round yet another huge ‘statue fountain’ – the most beautiful depot in the world, because it’s really not one. While waiting, we go into our ‘subway food outlet’ which not only provides excellent food, relief from Basel’s high prices and heat, but also a window onto the tram/bus destinations.
While waiting, I see in front of me yet another use for the very eclectic Swiss fountain. About a half dozen young adults are chatting away in the fountain! With bathers or shorts they stand waist deep, sit on the seat-wide edge or just lean on it from outside the water. They’re not making a big deal of it, it’s as though this is what you do if you’re hot and there’s a water fountain.
This fountain depot takes us everywhere including home to France, which for us is St Louis. I don’t mean to violin on about Swiss prices but they are often 30-50% higher than other places. This meant we slept and ate in France, shopped in Germany (just across the Rhine), and took in the sites and atmosphere of Swiss Basel.