What to do on a leisure day in Basel

Hmm April is almost over! It has been such a busy month! It started with my best friends from the Netherlands visiting me and continued with two Easters. Why two? Because my husband is Catholic and I am Greek orthodox, so we had two Easters one after the other. In case you are interesting what is a typical way to celebrate Easter day in Greece, check my blog post from last year: Easter customs in Greece.

Anyway, today I don’t want to write about Easter, but about my new almost hometown: Basel. I say almost because we are not living inside the city. Although I grew up in Athens that has about 10 million inhabitants, I find cities far too big, crowded and stressful. But they are still interesting to visit, and definitely Basel complies with that description.

As I mentioned already, in the beginnning of the month three of my closest friends were visiting me. We were blessed with summery weather and of course I had to take them to visit Basel.

For most people, Switzerland is mountains and lakes. Well, Basel is not inside the mountains and doesn’t have a lake, but that does not make it boring. It is the third most populated city in Switzerland (after Zurich and Geneva and before the capital Bern), and it is really expanding with suburbs to France on the west and Germany to the north.

Basel’s heraldic animal, something like its mascot, is the Basilisk. It is an imaginary animal, a hybrid between a rooster and a serpent. Although it looks like a dragon, it should not be mistaken for one, as it has the head of a cockerel. A basilisk is not a big animal, but is so venomous that it can kill people with only its breath and wherever it touched was doomed to die. With a single glance, he can kill a person or turn stones to dust, the latter only as long as the sun is shining! Quite a frightening creature, no? According to the legend, there was a basilisk living in a cave in the Old town of Basel.

The city of Basel is full of statues or depictions of basilisks, so if you visit the city, you should or will see one of them. One of the biggest statues, is the basilisk standing at the south entrance of Wettsteinbrücke. It is one of the four old guardians of the bridge and it is quite impossing!

And if you walk around the city, the possibilities are quite high that you will meet a basilisk fountain. By the way, the fountain basilisk are in the actual size of the legendary basilisk.

One of the several basilisk fountains you can find in Basel. The legendary animal is supposed to be exactly of this size.

As I mentioned earlier, Basel doesn’t have a lake, but it has a big river: the Rhine. It has crossed almost of Switzerland, and at the point of Basel it is big enough to see the big riverboat going up and down. Except from the big boats, there are four small ferries too, spread between Basel’s five bridges. They offer a slower and cosier alternative to cross the river, compared to using the bridges. They are environmentally friendly, as they have no motorised assistance. They move with the power of the current of river and assisted by nothing but a steel cable, so that they do not drift downstream, but move back and forth the two banks.

Another fun activity in the Rhine is swimming it! It is still a bit too cold in April to do so, but as the summer will be peaking, there will be more and more people swimming down the Rhine. My husband and me did it last August, so you can see our experience here.

The view from the Mittlere Brücke last August! Do you see the swimmers?

Two of the most visited buildings in Basel are its Minster and its City Hall.

The Basel Münster stands out thanks to its red sandstone and its distinct coloured roof tiles. Its construction spans through several centruries, as the Minster underwent several expansions and alterations. The foundation of the building we see today took place on 11th October 1019, so this year it celebrates the 1000-year anniversary. It started as a building of the Romanesque style, but its final form has Gothic characteristics and was completed in 1500. It was first a Catholic church, but in 1529 it was transformed to Reformed Protestant one. There are several important people buried inside the church, such as Queen Anne of Habsburg, but I was more interested to the tomb of Erasmus.

If you are strawling in the Old Town of Basel you won’t manage to miss the City Hall. It is a massive, eye-catching red building. It is the seat of the Basel government and its parliament. Its foundation dates back to 1290 and it dominates the massive Market square. In front of it there is most times a market (surprise, right?), so the whole area is busy with people.

The impressive Basler Rathaus (City Hall)
And there is Market at Marktplatz!

Basel has several museums and loves art. One of its most beloved artists is Jean Tinguely. If you have not heard him before, do check him! His works of art are full of motion and consist of kinetic sculpturs created mostly from pieces of machinery that he was finding thrown. The only common characteristic of this creations is motion or noise. There is a big museum with a lot of his works eastern than the centre of the city, which my husband and I visited several years ago, when we first visited Basel. I totally recommend it, as it is an absolutely interactive museum. In most museums, they discourage you from touching the exhibits, but in this one they welcome you to press the buttons.

But in case you do not have enough time to visit a museum, you can still see a speciment of Tinguely’s art: the Tinguely fountain. It is located quite close to the central train station, just behind the Basel Theatre. You will see a few crazy creations moving and spitting water! It is mesmerising!

The Tinguely fountain (Tinguely Brunnen) at Klostergasse 7. The photo is not as interesting as the fountain is in reality!

P.S. Thank a lot girls for the nice visit and for the nice photos you made, so that I could use them in my blog post!


Swimming in the Rhine!

There is something common between the two countries I have spent the last almost ten years of my life, the Netherlands and Switzerland: the Rhine. The Rhine starts in Switzerland, somewhere up in the Alps in the canton of Graubünden, and finishes in the Netherlands, going into the North Sea. And now that we live close to Basel, we go for a walk along the Rhine quite often.

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The view from the Mittlere Brücke Monday last week!

Monday last week we were once again for a walk and shopping in Basel and the weather was so nice that we decided to take the walkway right next to the Rhine. As we were approaching the centre of Basel from the north, we started noticing people floating in the Rhine holding colourful floating bags. It looked so funny! The closer to the centre and the Mittlere Brücke, we were seeing more and more heads and more and more colours! It was an absolutely brilliant sight!

A closer look to the previous photo. You can notice the small human dots in the river! They are uncountable!

As my Swiss husband explained, it is common in Basel to swim downstream the Rhine. It has nothing to do with normal swimming, where you leave your clothes outside at a point, go into the water and swim for a while back and forth and then you exit at about the same point and retrieve your clothes. The Rhine is a river with currents, so you enter at a point and the currents take you down to another point. As a result, you have to take your clothes with you. So the Swiss invented the Wickelfish!

Our wickelfish
Our two wickelfish

The Wickelfish is a watertight bag, resembling a fish. You put your dry clothes and belongings in it, you roll the opening of the bag (seven times according to the instructions), leaving the air inside. The Wickelfish floats thanks to the trapped air and doesn’t allow water to enter thanks to the tight wrapping.

wickelfish ready
The wickelfish ready for swimming!

Once you are finished with the packing, you enter the river together with your bag. There is a designated area where swimming is allowed, and you can enter at any point within this area. Of course it makes sense to enter as much upstream as possible. And then the fun part starts!

The official map of the swimming area. We are allowed to swim in the green areas (Source: SLRG)

Definitely, there are a lot of precautions that the municipality and the authorities insist on, so that swimming the Rhine remains fun. I list only the most important for me:

  • You should pay attention that the strap for hanging the wickelfish around you is connected to the end that has the velcro, as this will open by itself if there is tension on it (as for example if the bag gets tangled with a buoy or something).

  • The wickelfish makes it easier for ships to spot the people swimming, thanks to its bright colour. Nevertheless, swimming is only allowed in an area close to the shore. There are police boats patrolling all along the swimming area.
  • It is important to note, that the wickelfish is not a floating aid. You should be able to swim in order to enter the Rhine, as there is no lifeguard. The use of inflatable swimming aids is not allowed and you can get fined if the police sees you using any of them.
  • It is recommended not to go alone for swimming. It is also recommended to go with somebody that knows the swimming area.

After learning all this information, we checked the weather for the following day and we decided to try it for ourselves. How was our experience? Well, incredibly fun!

We were lucky that we joined a few colleagues of my husband that have been living in Basel for years and knew all the small secrets, such as where is easier to enter and exit because of the stones at the shore. Now we know these secrets too! In addition, thanks to the warm days we have had, the water temperature was recorded to be around 24 C, so quite warm.

Concerning the last point in the above list, I should note that it is not difficult to see where the swimming area starts. There are so many people swimming downstream the Rhine! And the ages of the swimmers we saw varied incredibly: from youngsters that were trying to ride the buoys (don’t try to do it, as you might get a fine), to old ladies that were enjoying a leisurely swim! In addition, the closer to the shore, the slower the currents of the river. Equivalently, the further to the middle of the river, the stronger the currents and the faster the swimming.

You might get the impression that you just lie in the water and the currents bring you down. Well, that is not true! Firstly we are talking about sweet water and not salty, so there is little buoyancy. So you do need to know how to float and keep yourself up in the water. True you don’t have to swim actively to move downstream, but we all had to help ourselves, so as to stay a team and head where we really wanted and not where the water takes you. The swimming area includes several obstacles, such as bridge piers and buoys, so it is important to avoid them.

Last Tuesday that we tried it ourselves, the water level was a bit low thanks to the really warm summer we have had, so the speed of the current was slower too. We entered at the earliest possible point, close to the Tinguely Museum and exited close to the lowest point, after the Johanniterbrücke. It took us about an hour to swim this distance, which was so surprising. But it was incredibly fun!

Map Rhine Swim
Our swimming route

Such a pity we didn’t try it earlier! If the weather remains good still, we are definitely going to do it again! After all now we know the secrets and have our wickelfish.