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Birthday, Museum Tinguely and a return to the Rhine

Basel

My birthday went well yesterday considering I was in recovery from my illness. I was well enough to teach during the day and help with the running of the Show in the evening - one of my two groups had decided to do a big quiz with audience participation, so my role was to hand out sweets to those who got correct answers. Earlier in the day, I was serenaded with 'Happy Birthday' by the first class I had, and I got a card and some Lindt chocolate from my colleagues. After the Show, a video call home was just the thing to round the day off.

This morning I had a lie-in and a leisurely breakfast of coffee and yoghurt before packing all my stuff and heading downstairs to put it in the luggage room and check out.

I took a bus to Museum Tinguely, which looks out over the Rhine.

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I was able to use my Basel Card to get my ticket half-price; this card was an unexpected bonus we received in our hotel rooms on arrival last Sunday. This had our names and dates of stay written on them and allowed us free public transport within the wider city, half-price museum tickets, public wifi at certain points and one or two things I didn't use.

The museum was playful and interesting, as I expected after remembering the intriguing moving fountain I saw last September, which is one of his works. Jean Tinguely was famous for his kinetic, often noisy, mainly mechanical sculptures, reminiscent of Heath Robinson's inventions - amongst other things, I was impressed with a series of mechanical automatic drawing machines - though he also made some 'still' works.

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I managed to get a couple of videos, though not unfortunately of one of the crowning glories - an entire wall-sized musical contraption with wheels, piano, bell, horns and other things (the video I thought I was taking didn't come out).

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That big one set off automatically every hour, but lots of the others could be set into motion by pressing a button with your foot, though they would only work if a certain minimum number of minutes had passed since the last time (usually between 5-10).

Unfortunately, while walking round I started feeling really lightheaded and drained. I still liked the rest of what I saw there, but decided not to go on to the other museum I'd had my eye on, but rather stick to the rest of my walking route.

This took me along part of the route along the side of the river which I took last September. Only saw one person floating down it this time... The emptiness of the stony river banks/beaches from humans benefitted the seagulls, however, who took advantage by taking baths. Just as I got to the first bridge a boy punted his unsteady way along the edge in a very bare wooden boat. The seagulls ignored him, as did the ducks and swans who were feeding in the shallows.

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After buying a late lunch from a supermarket I crossed the historic bridge I remembered from September and wandered up an invitingly cobbled and twisted path which followed the other side of the river.

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I came out at Minster Square, which appeared very handsome, with the red sandstone Minster on one side and then round the edge of the square, white buildings with green shutters.

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Although I was keen to go in and have at least a quick look, my plans were foiled by the service just about to begin; no tourists allowed. I could have gone to the service, I suppose, but I didn't have time, as I needed to get back to the hotel before 5:30 to collect my stuff before the receptionist went home and I lost access to the luggage room.

I took a bus a couple of stops to the station to help speed the process along. At the station I bought some supplies for the long journey to Bratislava and found the Flixbus stop for later, then walked down the road to the hotel.

To help while away the time In my long wait in the hotel lobby I started a fascinating book called 'Travels with a Tangerine'.

Posted by 3Traveller 09:46 Archived in Switzerland Tagged art hotel museum cathedral buses switzerland basel english_teaching birthday_celebration river_rhine Comments (0)

First time in Switzerland!

London Luton Airport, EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg, Basel and Tuttlingen

Saturday 31st August

I'm teaching in southern Germany for the coming week, but decided to arrive a day early in order to spend a night in Switzerland first. I hadn't been to Switzerland before, so I was keen to make the most of my situation! A full afternoon, evening and night in Basel awaited me.

I arrived at EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg after a flight which went smoothly, though I had a middle seat so I didn't get the best view. The airport is in France, right next to the border; in arrivals you turn left for France and right for Switzerland. I turned right and took the bus to the city centre - free for me with my hostel reservation, though nobody checked tickets anyway.

My hostel, Hyve Basel, was a quick and easy walk from the main station. It was a nice and sunny 25 °C outside and I enjoyed the short walk down leafy residential streets.

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I was too early to check in, so I left my bag in the luggage room and headed back out again straight away. I started off with a walk to the main branch of the Basel Historical Museum, via a park where I had a late lunch of coronation chicken rolls and Chinese sesame flour sweet things I had brought with me from the UK.

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I also passed the Neo-Gothic Open Church of Elizabeth and stopped at an intriguing fountain which after a few minutes I realised must have been designed by one of Basel's most famous artists, Jean Tinguely - a kinetic artist, famous for his moving mechanical sculptures. They reminded me a bit of pictures by Heath Robinson.

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The museum is in a converted church and although a bit on the pricey side (15 Swiss francs), it was definitely worth it.

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One of the highlights was a very interesting 'History of Basel in 50 Objects' exhibition. The highlights of this highlight took me from the Celtic settlement which was the first incarnation of Basel (represented here by a painted jar) all the way up to the Carnival procession of 1995 (a mask of a drum major).

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In medieval times Basel was a city of knights, and was famous for its jousting tournaments, which were usually held during the periods of Carnival and Whitsun and were accompanied by processions, dancing and heavy drinking; pictured are a 'pot helmet' and a 'little tournament crown' (put onto the spear tip to blunt it).

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There were several huge fires in Basel during the medieval period, and after an especially bad one in 1417, which destroyed around 250 houses, the town council decreed that all shingle roofs had to be replaced by tiled roofs. The cost of the tiles for the house owners were subsidised by the council. Pictured is a roof tile from around 1510, with the image of a woman engraved on it.

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Up until the late 19th century, Basel was enclosed by city walls. Prior to that century (when the rules were relaxed), the entry of people and goods was tightly controlled at the city gates. The gates were closed at nightfall and if you wanted to get in after that, you had to pay a fee. In addition to that, fines were issued if you weren't back in time for the evening sermon on Sundays and public holidays! Fees and fines were collected using a tall gate collection tin (one dating from 1615 is pictured).

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Fire was not the only thing which ravaged the city of Basel; the plague also made a regular appearance - every 14 years on average. During one particularly terrible outbreak, in 1610-11, 30% of the population of Basel died. The last known outbreak was between 1667-68. The plague remained (understandably) so feared that in the period after this last outbreak, the town's physician had himself painted as a plague doctor, complete with black protective clothing and beaked mask.

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Next up were the cabinet of Basel's executioner (with the tools he kept in it), which was in use between the 15th and 18th centuries, and a wooden Janus face mask from the River Abo in Cameroon - an object collected by missionaries from the Basel Mission (set up in 1815).

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Then I arrived at 1817, where I was met by a two-penny bread roll from that year. Like much of Europe, Basel suffered from a catastrophic harvest that year, caused by the massive eruption of Mount Tambora in what is now Indonesia; there was widespread hunger, and the price of corn quadrupled.

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In the time before supermarkets, bread used to be delivered to middle-class households every day. Throughout most of the year these deliveries were made from the bakeries via small wagons, handcarts or bicycles, but in snowy winters, 'bread sleds' were used. The one pictured here dates from 1890.

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Aside from the Carnival mask mentioned before, amongst the 20th century items were a Jewish star (representing the fact that Basel was a safe haven for some Jewish refugees during the 2nd World War) and a ballot box from the Basel-Stadt canton (in 1966, Basel-Stadt became the first German-speaking canton in Switzerland to introduce voting rights for women).

Elsewhere in the museum there was an interesting Enlightenment Cabinet of Curiosities and collection of globes, a fine collection of medieval tapestries, a stunning medieval or Renaissance carved wooden altarpiece, a 13th-century wooden relief of the Virgin & Child from South Tyrol or Graubünden, which was based on a famous Byzantine icon type called the 'Hodegetria' ('She who points the way'), and the remaining fragments of the medieval Danse Macabre murals which Basel was famous for until 1805, when the townspeople decided to knock down the wall it was painted onto and then nearly straight away regretted it. This regret resulted in a number of reproductions of what these murals had looked like - one dating from 1806 was on display. It arranges the Danse Macabre in five rows instead of one long one.

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The tapestry collection is a result of the flowering of this art form within the Late Gothic era in the cities of the Upper Rhine - Basel, Strasbourg and Freiburg. Some have religious themes, but in Basel more tapestries with secular themes remain than do religious ones; they display courtly ideals such as noble knights and elegant lovers, the latter shown in 'Gardens of Love' settings - depictions of earthly paradise. Others show wild men, monsters and other fantastical creatures.

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Included within the tapestry section were displays of two sets of 16th-century playing cards and a set of wonderful medieval stove tiles with reliefs of mythical creatures, a knight on horseback, fighting men, and groups of men and women playing dice.

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I had just headed out of the museum when I realised that I had accidentally missed out the basement, which contains an excellent archaeology section with prehistoric, Celtic, Roman and Alemannic finds. Luckily they let me go back inside and look round it without having to pay again!

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Before leaving I also caught an interesting yet sobering temporary display about the Penan people of Sarawak in Borneo, who have faced massive deforestation of their land since the 1960s.

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I was greeted by bright sunshine when I stepped outside the second time and wandered along picturesque streets to the Spalentor, the main surviving city gate, and then the wonderful Town Hall with its magnificent clock.

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From there I carried on to one of the main bridges across the Rhine. To my surprise, I saw lots of people floating/swimming down the river, carried quite strongly by the current. Most of them had an inflatable tied to them. I thought maybe it was a special event - it's as wide if not a bit wider than the Thames in central London, and surely normally as busy...? Anyway, I was very hot and sweaty by now so I was jealous - the water looked so tempting! It looked a lot cleaner than the Thames.

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After crossing the bridge I walked along the riverside, which was lovely. Lots of leafy trees, bicycles leaning against railings, picturesque buildings and people relaxing in the sunshine.

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After nabbing a cold drink and a 25% off slice of quiche from a small supermarket, I crossed back over via a different bridge.

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I was on a special mission I'd decided on as soon as I'd noticed it on Google Maps a few days before; a walk down the road to the St Alban Tor, another of the old city gates. It didn't look like visitors could go inside it, let alone up it, but I got a picture or two of it anyway. My hometown is St Albans, England, so it was a novelty to see references to St Alban - the protomartyr of Britain - abroad.

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It was past 7pm by now and my feet and back were protesting, so after buying my ticket to Tuttlingen for the next day from the train station, I headed back to the hostel. I had my quiche for dinner (I would have liked a proper meal, but Switzerland does seem as expensive as people say!) in the courtyard, retrieved my rucksack from the luggage room, picked up my key and retired to bed early in my dorm.

Sunday 1st September

I arrived at the hotel in Tuttlingen OK today after a 6-minute train ride from the Swiss Basel station to the German one, another train for an hour and a quarter to a small German city called Singen, and lastly an hour on a rail replacement bus from there to Tuttlingen. Lots of lovely scenery; we ran alongside the Rhine for a decent proportion of the longer train journey, and when not next to the Rhine I saw rolling farmland with heavily forested hills behind.

The hotel is in the middle of the town centre, which is nice - easy to explore the place once my teaching partner 'M' and I finish school each day. We'll have the earliest finish yet to a school day, at 12:30, so there'll be plenty of time to explore!

Update from 28/05/2022: It turns out that swimming/ wearing inflatables and letting the current take you between certain bridges on the Rhine is a very popular pastime in Basel in summer months - so it wasn't a special occasion at all, but rather an everyday one...

Posted by 3Traveller 14:14 Archived in Switzerland Tagged bridges churches buildings trains airport germany museum buses switzerland basel explorations river_rhine Comments (2)

Back to the Balkans

London Luton Airport, Nikola Tesla Airport, Belgrade and Užice (Serbia)


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I'm back in the Balkans for the coming week, in Serbia to be precise. Serbia is new to me, but I've already been reminded of other Balkan countries I've been to.

I'm teaching in a small city called Užice (pronounced oo-zhi-tse), which is only about 35km from the Bosnian border. I got here OK earlier after a very early morning, uneventful flight from Luton Airport to Belgrade, a three and a half-hour bus trip from Belgrade Bus Station to Užice city centre, and finally a taxi ride to the hotel, which lies a few km out of town. The scenery near Užice is dramatic and stunning, with winding roads and river, stone enscarpments, hills and forest - it reminds me a bit of Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, where I lived and worked for an academic year (see earlier in this blog).

I've met up with 'M', my co-teacher for the week, here at the hotel. We've spoken about how we're going to approach the week ahead, and taken advantage of the hotel's small all-you-can-eat buffet for dinner (only 500 Serbian dinars - about £4!). The selection they had for us to choose from seemed a little random; I had cheesy tomato and vegetable pasta, a very red, thin and tasty type of sausage, and sesame seed sprinkled chicken chunks. For dessert I was overjoyed to see a plate of tolumbi - like in Bulgaria, these are thick and flattened fingers of batter seeped in syrup - a bit mushier that the Bulgarian ones. They also had one of the most mouth-watering pastries I've ever had; a glorious combination of moist flaky pastry, cherries and cherry syrup.

I'm looking forward to what the next few days will bring!

Posted by 3Traveller 10:39 Archived in Serbia Tagged hotel airport buses serbia belgrade užice serbian_cuisine Comments (2)

Flixbus to Prague

Berlin and Prague


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Before I had to leave to get my Flixbus to Prague I had time for a last walk in Berlin, so I decided to wander down to the park next to the Fernsehturm (TV Tower) and St Marienkirche and say hello to Neptune and his adoring crowd of sea creatures.

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I arrived in Prague after nearly five hours on the half-empty bus. The journey itself was uneventful but just my luck, this last Flixbus journey of the trip was the first one to bother weighing bags as we got on, and since my big case was overweight I had to pay 9 euros (my own fault, I know). Luckily I got away with having two pieces of hand luggage instead of the one I was supposed to have (again, nobody was bothered about that on all my other Flixbus journeys).

My hostel, Hostel Ananas, is in Wenceslas Square - the middle of the historic Old Town. I'm looking forward to exploring tomorrow!

Posted by 3Traveller 01:59 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged churches prague germany berlin hostel buses czech_republic Comments (0)

Arrival in Berlin

Rostock and Berlin


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I arrived in Berlin yesterday afternoon after a fantastic hotel breakfast and a completely uneventful 3.5-hour Flixbus journey from Rostock. I relaxed for the rest of the day, intending to begin some sightseeing the next morning.

Potsdamer Platz and the Holocaust Memorial were my first stops. Potsdamer Platz was bisected by the Berlin Wall during the Cold War and during this time became an area of utter desolation. It looks completely different now, but as I walked round and looked at part of the Wall which remains, I got quite emotional.

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This feeling continued as I wandered round the concrete stelae within the site of the Holocaust Memorial. According to the architect, the stelae were designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, though the number of stelae and the monument's overall design has no symbolic significance other than it represents a a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.

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From there it was just a little bit further to the Brandenburg Gate.

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The Tiergarten, Berlin's most popular inner city park, lies across the road from the Brandenburg Gate. It started to rain just as I got there, so I didn't linger too long. I was on my way to a really interesting destination anyway, so I didn't really mind...

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...the Musical Instruments Museum!

Amazing - I definitely recommend it. It included a fascinating collection of crumhorns, shawms, dulcians (the predecessor of the bassoon), recorders, cornets, trombones and trumpets which were left to the Church in 1657 in the will of the choirmaster of St Wenzel's Church in Naumberg.

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Amongst a good range of other instruments going up until the first electronic guitars and keyboards, it also had such interesting things as Early Modern Flemish and Italian virginals and spinets, a Stradivarius violin, a serpent, a collection of pochettes (pocket fiddles, used by dancing masters and street musicians until the 18th century) and a 'giraffenklavier' (guess which one of my photos is if that...).

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My last stop before heading back to my hostel was Checkpoint Charlie (the best-known Berlin Wall border crossing, and now a tourist trap with no original buildings left; worth only a brief look).

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On my way back I passed through the Museuminsel, an area with lots of museums in it (a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its importance), and beyond. I found a small art market next to one side of the river and bought a lovely colourful little picture of an 'Indies Peafowl'. Also got some good views of the Fernsehturm and St Mary's Church, though I didn't go in.

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Posted by 3Traveller 03:36 Archived in Germany Tagged germany museum berlin hostel buses berlin_wall rostock brandenburg_gate unesco_world_heritage_site potsdamer_platz Comments (2)

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