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Bratislava Castle and Old Town architecture

Bratislava


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My only destination today ended up being the castle. I left the hostel with more energy I'd felt since arriving in Basel on the 26th, but this turned out to be premature, because the energy drained out of me on my walk up Castle Hill and has not yet returned.

On my way to Castle Hill I passed St Martin's Cathedral and unexpectedly came across a plaque to Imrich Lichtenfeld, the founder of the martial art Krav Maga and a defender of his Jewish neighbourhood against Fascist gangs in the late 1930s.

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There were some fantastic views of the city and the Danube as I went up Castle Hill.

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However, it was sobering to see the controversial Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising (more commonly known as the UFO Bridge due to its flying saucer-shaped observation deck/ restaurant). It's controversial because when it was built in 1972, nearly all of the Jewish Quarter in the Old Town was demolished to create the roadway leading to it.

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The castle was a rather odd experience, mainly because over five public floors about 70-80% of rooms available to walk through were empty, and some others were no entry at all. At times it felt a bit like I was trespassing, although I'd had my ticket checked on entry and after that nobody said anything to me. There were very few other people apart from me inside.

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The ground floor had only the cloakroom and some information about the reconstruction/ refurbishment of the castle. The first floor had the redone music room/ chapel and two rooms which were completely empty except for an antique painted wooden cabinet in one and two large oil paintings and an antique grandfather clock (without the pendulum) in the other. No information given about any of them.

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The second floor had an interesting one-room exhibition of historic prints, watercolours and woodblock prints of the city of Bratislava (known apparently as Pressburg in the 18th and 19th centuries) from the 17th to the early 20th centuries.

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The third floor had an exhibition on the part students, artists, musicians and other activists had to play in the Slovak equivalent of the Czech Velvet Revolution, which together caused the downfall of Communism in then-Czechoslovakia in November 1989. It felt a bit strange to think that this momentous historical occasion happened in my lifetime, albeit when I was too young to hear about or remember it.

The third floor also had the entrance to the steps up the original tower, so I went up. Nice panoramic views from the windows, though they were quite small.

I finished up with a look round the basement, as it promised me an exhibition about the Celts in Bratislava and other places in Western Slovakia. Although a bit amateurishly presented, and small, it did have some interesting exhibits, such as gold and silver coin hoards, bone dice, skeletal remains (both human and of the animals they ate), an engraving/scratching of a pig, a tiny metal figure of a dog, and glass, metal, amber and bone jewellery and other personal objects.

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After leaving the main building I re-admired the views over the Danube and the rest of the city. The sun had come out, though it was still very chilly, with biting winds.

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I made the decision then not to go on a day trip the next day, as I felt so sapped of energy, but rather give the City Museum within the Old Town Hall another chance to have their tower open, and to go to the Jewish Museum as well.

Pleased at having made the decision, I decided to go back to the hostel a different way to the one I'd come. The architecture and cobbled streets of the historic centre are a sight to behold, even in chilly February. Similar to Graz, though smaller.

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On an impulse, after seeing someone leave and thus realising it was open, I popped into the 17th century Protestant-turned-Jesuit church next to the Old Town Hall. Lots of marble, and a large oil painting above the altar.

Posted by 3Traveller 11:26 Archived in Slovakia Tagged bridges churches bratislava museum slovakia fortifications river_danube Comments (0)

Museums and a Soviet war memorial

Bratislava


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Since I still felt very drained and cough-ridden today, I took it quite easy again.

I started with what I didn't manage yesterday; the Arms Museum, held round the corner within St Michael's Gate, and the historic Red Crayfish Pharmacy Museum, a couple of doors down from there.

Both are tiny and handily share the same ticket; entrance to one gives you free entry to the other. I went to the Arms Museum first. I admired their collection of pistols, giant metal 'speaking trumpet', Central European, Moroccan, Middle Eastern, Indian and Japanese daggers and swords, Central European huntsman's bag and stag- and cattle-horn powder flasks, and Austro-Hungarian armour, drum, uniforms and field-glasses.

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I also walked round the viewing platform at the top of the gate, managing not to get blown off in the process (it was an extremely windy day today). Intriguingly, when looking down on one side, I noticed small coins in the copper gutters below, and that the gutter ends were shaped like dragons.

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The Pharmacy Museum didn't have the dried pufferfish and bats, collections of exotic biological and mineral materials, or historic medical texts which I've seen in other pharmacy museums, but it was still interesting to have a look at its collection of wooden cabinets and ceramic, wooden, glass and tin jars, and I admired the painted ceiling in the main room. After taking a photo of a wooden cabinet near the start, I was told that photos weren't allowed, so I didn't get any of the rest of the interior, though I did get ones of the exterior; the metal crayfish sign and the historic metal gates.

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After that my intention had been to go to the castle, but I was so lacking in energy I decided to leave that until the next day, when the weather is due to be better in any case, and just wander round the City Museum this afternoon instead. It's held within the beautiful Old Town Hall, practically on my hostel's doorstep. After a decent sit-down at the hostel, I walked over. However, the lady at the ticket desk told me that although the main part of the museum was open, the tower was closed today (due to the strong winds, I assume), so since I didn't want to miss going up it, I decided to leave the museum until the next day as well.

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After then finding out that the majority of the Slovakian National Gallery is under refurbishment and/or having new exhibitions installed, I settled on something a bit different; the site of Slavín, the largest war memorial and cemetery in Europe.

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I assume they mean the largest in terms of numbers buried there, because I'm sure some of the WWI cemeteries I saw in France and Belgium were bigger in terms of site size. This one contains the bodies of nearly 7000 Soviet soldiers who died in April 1945 during the liberation of Bratislava from the Nazi forces who were occupying the city. The statue on the memorial column shows a Soviet soldier crushing a swastika underfoot.

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The memorial/cemetery lies on a hill, so there were some impressive views of the city. Very cold and windy, though, and the setting of course was sombre.

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Posted by 3Traveller 15:29 Archived in Slovakia Tagged bratislava museum slovakia soviet_monument Comments (5)

Birthday, Museum Tinguely and a return to the Rhine

Basel


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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)

A week in Swabia

Tuttlingen, Singen, Zurich Airport and London Luton Airport


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I've had a great week in Tuttlingen, which is in the far south-west of Germany, only around 20km from the Swiss border and from the Bodensee (Lake Constance).

I was there because I was teaching 17-19-year-olds a preparation course for the speaking part of the English Abitur exam. The situation for my colleague 'M' and I this week was a little peculiar, because since the actual term doesn't start until midway next week, most of the school was empty - apart from our two classes, we had only a couple of secretarial staff, the caretaker and the occasional teacher for company, plus the contact teacher at the beginning of the week. We weren't given access to a staff room, so our movements were restricted to the classrooms, the secretaries' office, a tiny secretaries' kitchen, the copying room and the toilets.

The students were all quite high level. They were all really nice - a pleasure to teach all round. Since it was an exam preparation course, the end-of-week presentations yesterday were based on two types of Abitur English speaking exam tasks (monologues describing and analysing political or social newspaper/magazine cartoons, and paired discussions based on different topics.)

Yesterday and Thursday were overcast, but during the first half of the week the weather was beautiful. I took advantage on Tuesday and Wednesday by going on lovely walks round town and up a nearby forested hill to look round 'Ruine Honberg', remains of a small medieval fortress. Rebuilding work was going on on one tower, but aside from that I was almost the only person there the whole time, so it was very peaceful. Great views through the trees, too.

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In town it was lovely just strolling around the centre, taking in the pleasant architecture, parks and atmosphere.

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The entire town was burnt to the ground by a devastating fire in 1803 and some buildings from the original reconstruction survive, including the Tuttlinger Haus, now an interesting house museum with displays on local history as well as of one of the main families who lived here - all in German, but I managed to decipher some of it!

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It turns out that although the population of Tuttlingen is only about 35,000, the town currently produces nearly half of the world's supply of surgical instruments. Tuttlingen was formerly a shoe manufacturing centre, because there were several tanneries along the banks of the Danube.

Yesterday afternoon I didn't do much except follow the cricket and go out for a bit of shopping and a walk to the train station to buy my ticket to Zurich Airport for the next day. I also went to an 'Eiscafé' for a coffee with 'M' to celebrate the end of the working week - I asked for an iced coffee and it came with a scoop of ice cream and a mountain of real whipped cream on top! Delicious!

The first leg of my journey today - a rail replacement bus to Singen - didn't leave until 11:15, so after five days of very early starts I very much enjoyed a bit of a lie in and a nice leisurely breakfast! I also managed a last quick walk around town, in order to take a few pictures of sculptures I had noticed on previous days.

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In one of the parks I came across a group of people playing a type of bowls;

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The train journey from Singen to Zurich Airport was very smooth. There was some wonderful scenery, including a view of what I think were the spectacular Rhine Falls. I didn't manage to get any pictures of them though.

My experience at Zurich Airport was seamless and the flight to Luton Airport was uneventful.

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Posted by 3Traveller 16:58 Archived in Germany Tagged waterfalls art buildings airport germany museum switzerland explorations english_teaching fortifications natural_wonder house_museum river_danube tuttlingen Comments (0)

First time in Switzerland!

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


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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)

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