Stepping off the plane, I couldn’t help but notice that Basel airport bears a striking similarity to many rural, American airports. There are few gates, limited services, and only the essential airport staff. This might not be your point of entry, but if it is know that you’re not actually in Switzerland just yet. You’re in France.
Basel airport, if you didn’t guess by the name, services the Swiss city of Basel primarily, but at some point the lords of the air decided that it should be located outside the bounds of Europe’s favorite neutral country.
Catching a cab might be difficult here, and there’s no train to the city to speak of. I found a taxi sign sitting atop a weathered Tesla S-series sedan. Sadly, no driver was in sight. That was okay, I had my Lyft app – but they don’t. It was another dead end. Thankfully Uber had penetrated the market, and while I’d prefer not to use their service due to the reported corporate culture, I was out of alternatives.
Switzerland and the EU
Switzerland is the first European country I’ve visited that went mostly untouched by the second world war. I say mostly because there several Allied bombings of Switzerland. One notable incident hit Schaffhausen. Stories are mixed. At the time the Allies cited bad weather that threw the bombers off course and confused the navigators. Others say it became a target when it started producing arms for the Axis. It almost makes me want to put “neutral” in quotes, and there I just did.
In any case, those days are long in the past and we’re all good friends now. Existing treaties do not make the country part of the EU, but they do keep up with most of the laws.
This was my first time in Switzerland and I came in rather cold. I didn’t know what language they spoke, and didn’t realize that they’re not part of the EU – so no Euro. Swiss Francs is the way to go. Your local bank might not have them handy, so order ahead of time. Like the rest of western Europe, however, the Swiss in service jobs predominantly spoke English when I approached in my, obviously American, t-shirt and jeans.
Most of them speak German as their first language, and the culture felt very Germanic as well. As I toured the city I felt very comfortable as I’d been to Germany several times. I only had a short time in Basel being towed behind my wife as she was coming off of a conference.
We visited their municipal museum and found out how the town crest came to depict the top of a Bishop’s staff, and who their favorite king of old had been – although I can’t recall his name now. The Basilisk is their favorite monster and legends abound on how they are defeated when they appear. People of Basel – 16, Basilisk – 0.
After a day or two we moved on from the city of the Snake/Chicken/Frog-thing to the luxurious, lakeside city of Zürich. Home to banks and insurance companies, Zürich is the third most expensive city in the world in which to live. When visiting, prepare to spend a pretty Franc on meals, but maybe not so much on a nice pocket knife.
The city’s biggest attraction might be the cheese. Along with frothy fine beer, fondue seems to be a main dish at every third or fourth dinner restaurant. It’s consistently delicious. Apparently they source the milk for the cheese from the same cow. Her name is Heidi and she’s a national treasure.
Between the cheeses we managed to stop at a few of the sights. Here’s a list of my top 5:
- Fraumünster Church
The audio tour in this church cites its role in the Protestant Reformation in Switzerland. While that makes for interesting history, it leaves a church rather stark when compared to its Catholic contemporaries. Be that as it may, it’s worth the time and five Franc charge to get a ticket to climb the tower, which offers a 360° view of the city.
- Grossmünster Church
Standing across the river from Fraumünster is Grossmünster. It has a similar minimalist decor, save for the windows – which are stunning. Five shimmering Chagall towers flank the apse.
- Rhein Falls
You’ll have to take a bus or rent a car to get to the falls, but you’ll be rewarded a close-up view of the powerful Rhein as it throws thousands of gallons (liters) of water across the nose of Laufen Castle (Schloss Laufen).
- Stroll on the Limmat River
The Limmat is the larger of two rivers that run through the city. It boasts a busy waterfront with swimmers, boats, restaurants and great people watching.
Zürich offers a world-class shopping district. I found, however, that some of the more interesting stores were on the other side of the river, on Fraumünster. Since it’s away from the train station it has a more strollable feel without the commuters. Dotted with bars, eateries, shops and even a few unsavory establishments. In a word: culture.
Friendly people, more than anything, is what I will remember about our Swiss adventure. At every turn were helpful, nice folks who look you in the eye when they’re talking to you. Coupled with a great mix of country and city adventures, this is definitely on the list of countries I’ll visit again.