To Be or Not To Be

A little kingdom I possess,
Where thoughts and feelings dwell;
And very hard the task I find
Of governing it well.
-- Louisa May Alcott.
...........hmmm....that more or less describes my situation !!

~A Wise Man Said~

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
-- Aristotle

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Wrote this post while I was cooling my heels at the Frankfurt airport for all of five hours. And good thing I did; I have had absolutely no time since I have arrived and I’m afraid I would have lost the best moments by now. I wanted very much to check the blog and post something while I was at Basel, but there was no wi-fi connection at the apartment and blogs were totally blocked in office.

Switzerland, at least the little corner of Switzerland I was fortunate enough to visit, is just so so beautiful! I have no other words to describe it. The moment I walked out of Basel airport (the Basel airport by the way is no less special—you can exit into France, Germany, or Switzerland from this so called EuroAirport), and found my way into a taxi, I thought I had stepped directly into a picture postcard. Gorgeous looking trees and such wonderfully shaped and coloured leaves seem to abound all around (I later understood this is the general hue of the autumn season). My first impression is that of being in wonderland—I understand what Alice may have felt! :)

I happened to land on Sunday which happened to be literally a day of rest in Basel (not sure if the rest of Switzerland or for that matter Europe is so laidback on a Sunday). There was not many a soul to be seen around, not a shop was open, and no noise or sound to be heard. The whole procedure from finding my apartment to getting the keys to making myself comfortable was exactly planned and went as per plan without my having to meet with anybody’s presence. Apparently even the apartment offices close on Sunday but they take care that you don’t face any difficulty—but that I guess is a tough call if you come from a country where things are not so automated and human intervention is the first step to resolving a problem! For example, a phone was available for my service but the sprageldy-gabble English instructions written for me didn’t give me an exact clue of what I may be charged for it or if I would be charged at all. If that’s not a small inconvenience, I’d like to know what is.

The people in Basel, at least the ones I interacted with, were extremely warm and friendly, and I happened to interact with quite a few on my way back from office when I would ask for directions to one sightseeing destination or another. They would spend more than a few minutes to help me usually. One time, a gentleman saw me and my colleague poring over a map deeply, and came and stood by us to enquire if he could help with what we were looking for. On being told we were looking for this place called “Munsterplatz”, he told us we had all of two possibilities. We could either go straight, then right, and then down the hill or we could go straight and left and then up the hill…I had made up my mind immediately that down the hill sounded better, when he added that on second thoughts we should go up the hill, because the view of the Munster (which we figured by then meant ‘Church’) when you go up towards it was magnificent. Such niceties from strange people made one feel good, and this was not one isolated instance. One other time we were making our way along Claraplatz (I noted that every place ended with a Platz or a Strasse—I guess Pltaz means place and probably Strasse is also along the same lines)…so another time late in the evening (it got dark by 5.30 and everything shut down by 6.00) we found ourselves on this street called Claraplatz and believing we were more or less lost (we had put off giving in to this belief because we were told by sundry people that try as you might, you couldn’t get lost in Basel)…we stopped this couple and asked them how far we were from our end location. The guy who seemed to understand English made a panicking running motion with his hand and said ‘this not where you go, this very far”. Needless to say, we almost started panicking ourselves. The lady gave us a calm smile, argued with her husband, took the map out of our hands and showed us which way to take. We asked how many minutes it would take to reach and the lady thought for a bit and said 20 minutes. What made me feel better is the thought that we had been walking all the time and never taken any vehicle, so no matter how far we were, we couldn’t have come all that far! Finally we found ourselves on familiar home territory in 10 mins. The only conclusion we could draw from the story is that given the Swiss love for being exact, probably they had given a very conservative estimate of 20 mins. But all in all, it made me feel nice that they cared about rank strangers.

The ‘walking’ part reminds me—my major mode of transport in Basel were my feet. I would walk to office (15 mins approx) and walk back from office; this was along the Rhine river and made for a pleasant experience in itself. I would walk to go sightseeing, walk to go shopping, walk and more walk. On a Saturday, we decided to try out the Day Pass for a tram (if one didn’t walk, one mostly used the tram in Basel). It was a jolly nice ride in the tram when we just started out, but after that, if we asked anyone for tram related information, the only answer we got was that it was too close to take a tram—you’d be better of walking. So apart from that one teeny weeny ride, we were again walking. I took consolation in the fact that I would have lost some weight with all this good healthy exercise, but there was a good reason why I may not have lost after all—and that reason being Chocolates!

If chocolate lovers achieve nirvana, they must come straight to Switzerland I guess! :) There was so much chocolate all over the place, so much lovely variety, so much sinful goodness, so much gooey yumminess, so much abundance of the brown mouth watering stuff…It was all I could do to stop myself from going overboard! I would get into every shop that attracted me with its chocolate and baked goodie temptations and just smell and feel whatever was on offer…it was a joy just experiencing it!

Given the smallness of the city, I was able to partake of more or less all the little attractions it had. Apparently Basel is widely known for its cultural orientation and consciousness and I guess its 30 odd museums are some sort of testimony to that. I visited two museums: one was the Kunst Museum and another called Dolls House Museum. While I am no connoisseur of paintings and do not know too much about appreciating art, I must say I enjoyed my stroll in the Kunst Museum. There was this air of the ancient and things gone by and lost beauty and mystery about the place and the aura that the paintings exuded, it would be difficult to not be impacted by it. I managed to pick postcards of some paintings I particularly liked. The Puppenhaus (Doll’s House) Museum was a nice place though more enjoyable for kids I’m sure. I actually saw a few parents with their kids silently watching the doll display and seeming to enjoy themselves. It sort of surprised and pleased me because I had stopped believing kids in any part of the world today have the sensibility to enjoy just watching still things, no matter how beautiful! On the last floor of the museum I found some sort of craft competition for kids going on and it was fun watching. Children were given plain little sculpted dolls and were asked to decorate it with all the items they were provided with, like colours, fancy leaves, beads, shimmer, glue etc. The end products looked so good, I ended up asking the lady if I could buy one—but she said no :(

The high point of my visit though has to be the Autumn fair (Herbstmesse). Luckily, in the first week I was in Basel, the autumn fair was still going on. Every evening we would go to a different site in the city and enjoy the fair. There were the regular giant wheels, merry-go-rounds, and all sorts of dare devilish rides—one could hear children and older people screaming out of those rides! There were candy stalls, chocolate stalls, shooting stalls, pizza stalls, and what not! Some very interesting chocolate concoctions I witnessed; they would put strawberries or apples or bananas (or other fruit) on a stick (like we do with kababs) and dip the whole thing in melted chocolate! Then there was this other chocolate that was sort of ovalish and huge in shape but when you bit into it, it was full of cream (I particularly loved this one!). Then there was almonds roasted in sugar or heavily flavoured cinnamon cakes. It was a wonderful experience—just walking the streets and absorbing the spirit of revelry pervading the air.

Last but never the least, shopping! Most of my shopping sojourn was along this long street called Frie Strasse (yes, yes, the Frie does mean free but nothing is free :)). Apart from chocolate shopping, much else wasn’t possible. Things seemed to be very very expensive, especially the clothes. I was in fact disappointed even with the quality of the clothes given the price, but it looked like lot of Chinese goods had flooded their market. I intended to buy a Swiss watch if nothing else and on the last day fortune seemed to smile on me. Not the best looking watch I have had yet, but when I think of the place it’s going to remind me of, I’m sure it will be a keeper! :)

Some photos here