Day trip by train: Basel, Switzerland

Freiburg, Germany, which we're exploring for a few weeks, is close to the Swiss and the French border. This summer (2022) the German rail company, Deutsche Bahn, is offering a monthly 9 Euro ticket which can be used on public transit as well as regional trains (but not on the high speed trains, ICE).

View of Basel on the Rhine River
Basel on the Rhine River

We decided to go explore Basel less than one hour away from the Freiburg main station.

Unfortunately, DB (Deutsche Bahn) is often late, and the regional trains are prone to cancellations. If you use then, make sure you're not in a rush to get to your destination! The train we had planned to take, at 8:32 am, was cancelled; we changed platforms and waited for the 9:18 am, which was "just" 5 minutes late. It was full - as seems to often be the case in these regional trains. Most passengers wore masks, the proper way.

Once we arrived, we asked for directions, and decided to walk about 30 minutes towards the downtown area rather than try to figure out how to get a tram ticket. The train station we got off at appears to be the "German" one (Basel Bad), whereas there is another station within Basel, Basel SBB, which seems to be the "Swiss" station and is adjacent to the French SNCF station. We walked through the fairgrounds (Messe) area, and little by little started seeing shops and cafes. We stopped for coffee and a pastry at one such cafe, with a cheerful lady at the counter. It was "self-service" insofar that you take your own tray to your table. Basel sticker shock started there: over 5 Swiss francs for a cappuccino, versus 3.50 or so in Freiburg.


Basel has its own version of Swiss German. Pastries had unfamiliar names but they all looked good! We tried a popover style pastry filled with apple. We passed by a "little free library" named an "open book cupboard" here.

We reached the Rhine, and to our great surprise saw a swimmer, swimming along with the strong current. We thought he was an outlier, but then we saw two, three, entire groups, people with gray hair, men and women. The day was hot and it really seemed like fun. Many were using a floatation device, but not all. There were areas on the shore where a swimmer could get out of the water. Later in the afternoon, I dipped my feet in - it was really refreshing.


Left to right, top to bottom: Interior of the Münster, Town Hall (Ratshaus), a door near the Münster; a view outside the Münster, the small ferry (Fähre), coming up from the ferry on the Münster side of the river.

We visited the Basel Münster (in English: Minster). The original building was destroyed by an earthquake in 1356; Johannes Gmünd, the architect who built the Freiburg Münster, also rebuilt the Basel church. The architect Ulrich von Ensingen, built an extension; he was also in charge of the Strasbourg cathedral towers. The Basel Münster is a simpler version of the Freiburg edifice. It used to be a Catholic church and was converted later to a Protestant church in 1529. A wealth of information is available on Wikipedia.

We walked to the Rathaus (town hall) on Marktplatz, a square with a farmers' market, down a commercial street with the usual international stores, and then through the narrow winding streets. We had a light lunch at a coffee shop (again, quite expensive compared to Germany). We crossed the Rhine over the old bridge and strolled again on the riverbank, until it was time to catch our regional train back to Freiburg.

Basel is also well-known for its art and culture scene: it is the location of the famous Art Basel (for profit) fair, and there are many fine art museums, such as the Kunstmuseum Basel, the Museum Tinguely, and the famous design museum, the Vitra Museum.

Note: After looking up cost of living indexes, I found that Switzerland ranks quite high.


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