High density

Okay, so it happened again. After we got into Basel we had a BBQ and beers with Scott in his lovely two storey penthouse apartment just outside the shopping district. Gorgeous old building with real quirky dressings and lovely homely feel. And I didn't get to blogging. Sue me.

Yesterday we did a day trip to France. Basel is very close to the border and so we just took a train (less than 80 minutes) and spent the day in another country. The whole public transport system seems incredibly relaxed here. We've hopped on trains that you don't have to validate a ticket on, presumably because sometimes there'll be conductors who will ask you for them. But on an international train ride, we bought tickets from a booth, walked straight through gates with no security, passport check, bag screening or anything, and then sat down on the train. For the entire eighty minutes not a single conductor checked our passes. At the end of the day, on the way back, the exact same thing occurred. No security, no ticket check, no bag screenings. We literally could have waltzed into France without a ticket and without a passport. They say that this northern Swiss, western Germany and eastern France is its own separate country, and you could believe it.

Our destination for the day was Strasbourg, which is actually quite far north in France. Strange how you can just pop on a train and be in a different country. People were speaking French, taking Euros instead of Swiss Francs, and selling crêpes. We had baguettes for lunch and pain chocolat for dessert. Wandering through the town we were struck by how beautiful it was. The weather, warm despite the clouds, was for once just right - not sweaty, not humid, not boiling. Despite the wafts of crepes we held off and instead found ourselves in a shopping centre. A little bit of shopping later and we did a lap of the town back through the suburbs and into the train station again.

On the way back we found ourselves heading into a storm. The weather we'd successfully avoided up north had well and truly hit in Switzerland. The rain and winds worsened as we arrived in Basel. Despite it only taking a little over an hour, it actually felt like a different country where on the way out it was hard to believe. Still no bag or ticket checks though. Dinner, at a Swiss restaurant, was decidedly French. I had a tarte flambé, a French pizza with sour cream instead of tomato base, while Sam had a kind of cold veal galette and potatoes. I guess the region really has culturally bled together.

Today was the first opportunity we'd had to really see Basel. Despite being quite familiar with the Zurich train station we'd spent most of what had been intended to be about five days here in places other than Basel, be it Montreux, Strasbourg or Zurich. We headed first up to the Fondation Beyeler, a modern art museum currently full of pop art by Jeff Koons. The three metre tall, two tonne steel representations of balloon animals, easter eggs and golden hearts were novel, but the simple view of a wheat field in winter out the striking glass facade, and the underwater speakers making rippling "sound lilies" in the pond was more beautiful. The chance to see some of Monet's water lilies juxtaposed against the real thing in a pond outside the window, and a modern version with sound, shouldn't be overlooked.

After a quick lunch -  a kebab, in my case, and a good one at that - we headed to the Museum Tinguely, another fairly small place that housed a lot of kinetic sculptures. The showpiece at the moment was on Tatlin, a Russian artist that created many exciting engineering plans and paintings. The mechanical art was striking to look at and enjoyable to activate, but due to an imposed limit on how frequently the art could be turned on to maximise its life, you did have to stand around for a bit to get things going. In the afternoon I did some wandering and shopping and then we headed out for asian food with Scott. After a nice night and a red whole fish curry, we headed down the river and across on a tiny boat moored to a cable across the top.There we found a bar and had a nice drink as the sun set, before returning home for Lackerli, a traditional Basel biscuit (sort of like gingerbread but without ginger), Swiss chocolate, vanilla ice cream and pumpkin seed oil (try it, it's great) and whiskey as a digestif.

So, a lot of things went on in one and a bit days. We're off to Zurich for a couple of days so today's events will probably be small enough to fit into one post tonight and I can get into the rhythm again. Basel really is unappreciated - I saw a couple of tourists and that was it. There's no souvenir culture here, just a real, working European city full of great architecture, food and people. I asked Scott if he wished it were more popular or known: "God no," he replied.