Basel Switzerland: The City of Enchantment
The most hardened world traveler will take a second look on landing. Grain crops in hues of green and brown line the landing strip, and most flights in from Zurich or Geneva are quaintly narrow, with no more flying time than for a glass of orange juice or a chocolate posing as a large gold coin. It seems that you have left in a time machine for the early years of civil aviation. The nostalgia keeps building as you disembark through an old-fashioned stair-way, and actually walk across the tarmac in to the relatively small terminal building, with welcoming hangers-on watching you from behind a barely-wired fence.
Neither the French nor any Germans have a deciding vote on whether the S of Basle should be silent or pronounced with a vigor of Basel. This historic and picturesque city accommodates global executives, ethnic minorities, indomitable Christians and furtive business people with the aplomb it displays in juxtaposing modern industry, medieval structures, classic art forms, and the quintessentially Swiss way of life.
Baggage retrieval is boringly speedy and reliable, but the choice between customs check by either France or Switzerland, is a symbolic welcome to Basle or Basel. You may wonder why the Germans do not have a post of their own, given that this quaint city is so equidistant from France and Germany! An endearing feature of much of Switzerland is the informality of boundaries between neighboring countries, though extravagant fines await those who cheat on tariff differences between prices of foods, beverages, and other consumables!
This city cannot claim any exclusive rights to liberal relations with neighboring countries, because all of Switzerland is classically and irreversibly neutral in our polarized world! That applies to cleanliness and hygiene as well, for while Basle is refreshing for eyes accustomed to city litter, the fastidiousness of the Swiss when it comes to keeping surroundings spotless, stays with you for as long as you are anywhere in the country.
It is seamless blending that sets Basel apart. The countryside is largely agrarian with intermittent pockets of industry. Zurich is as clearly a business center, as Geneva is a convivial setting for weighty dialog by world leaders. Lugano and Gstaad join the famous Davos as playgrounds for the rich and famous. Basle stands out because she is all things to all people.
Convenient size and disciplined layout strike you as you drive in to the city limits, and those impressions will never leave you, wherever you may reside. It takes just minutes to commute from any extremity to the center of town, and there are no signs of road rage even when everyone seems to be driving all at once! The serene Rhine is bridged no fewer than five times within city limits, and the ancient ferry system works as well!
Villages and even hick towns are compact, but Basel has a medieval town square, a glorious river, a generous zoo, open-air musicals, ethereal Churches, and vast industrial zones, all in one. That is not counting great public transport, every shopping preference, bars and night-life for the adventurous. Theology, banking, pharmaceuticals, and business events keep the noses of industrious hotel concierges to the grindstone. You will find visitors and residents from all over the globe in this city, but you never feel encumbered by crowds. Good manners and courtesy are so infectious inBaslethat you could be pleasantly surprised at your own behavior!
Service more than cuisine will satiate your appetite in Basel. It would be unusual to dislike chocolate even if you have not acquired tastes for all cheeses, but these Swiss gifts to the world are the same in Basle as anywhere else. Swiss wines lack neither breadth nor body, but the locals are too polite to show any disappointment if you settle for Spanish, Californian, or even French! Salads, meats, and potatoes make for rather pedestrian fare, so while you would be far from hungry during any time of your stay, do not expect any extraordinary culinary experiences. Considerate as ever, Basel caters to all food choices from ethnic Indian to vegan, but what is special is to be treated like royalty, no matter which back-alley eatery you may choose. Place settings, plate displays, warm smiles, and discreet bill collection, are all standard. The most exclusive restaurants are set in ancient forts, and recreate the magic of ages gone by.
Art and culture are inevitable highlights of every Basel sojourn. Jazz lovers and the club crowd will have no reasons to complain, but it is history and the classics that the city shows all her finery. It is almost unfair that such a small town should own such an exquisite collection of sculpture! The performing arts are all about common people. The choirs and orchestras do not have famous names, but that only makes the heavenly sounds all the more stirring!
No praise can be too high for the cleanliness, punctuality, and convenience of the Swiss railway system. Only royalty can travel in such style at home! Basel has magnificent dimensions and ornate decorations for its railway system, and it is easy to make day trips in to the famous Alps, with verdant scenery and engineering marvels on the way to incredible heights.
Duty free shopping at all Swiss airports is varied and attractively priced: the one at Basel is typically efficient in this respect. It makes sense to check-in for departure a little earlier than you have to, rather than to spend precious time browsing through the nearly endless chains of large stores and boutiques in the city.
Most conducted tours breeze through the main streets of Basel with nary a stop. The City University dates back to the 15th century Nietzsche is amongst the alumnus, but this great center of learning is relatively unknown to modern students. A job with one of the many global corporations based in and around this small town is therefore one of the best ways of getting to know Basle. It is an urban center to savor many times over, in any case!