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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)

Working in Vienna

Vienna


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Update from June 2021: The pay-as-you-wish Pakistani restaurant is the famous Der Wiener Deewan. The Sigmund Freud Museum finished its refurbishment and renovation and is fully open again.

I had a busy but interesting and enjoyable week teaching in the historic centre of Vienna.

This is the first of the short contracts this year where I've had to take public transport to school rather than being able to walk. Taking public transport during rush hour every day in work clothes gave me a real sense of being more like a resident rather than a tourist, although clearly this was just a very small taste of that. It's interesting how even something as 'everyday' as the Underground/ metro experience can vary in different countries.

I was thinking of going to the State Opera on Thursday (you can get cheap tickets if you get there early), but in the end I had too much admin to do and homework to mark to be able to go. There are several museums I'd love to have gone to but I would never have had time to fully do them justice, plus I was always so tired, so I left them for a time in the future when I'm in Vienna but not working. It's a shame I had to fly home late Friday afternoon as it meant I had to go straight to the airport after work, with only a quick stop at the hotel to pick up my bags. Otherwise I would have explored the city more and gone to a museum then and on Saturday morning.

One place I did go to was the Sigmund Freud Museum, but the main part of it was closed for refurbishment, so I just saw the temporary two-room exhibition, which focused on the basic details of his life and his psycho-analytical theories. It was still worth seeing, of course, and the ticket price was reduced in light of the situation.

I did go out for lunch with two of the other teachers a couple of times, to the same place; an Pakistani restaurant where you only pay what you can afford and what you think the food was worth. You serve yourself and the whole atmosphere is very casual. On both occasions I had a delicious chicken paprika dish with rice; for dessert there was a type of lovely thick semolina pudding with 'mandeln und mango' - I wondered what 'mandeln' meant, then soon found out it means 'almonds'. They called it 'Halwa' which was interesting - turns out that this is from the same wider halva family of sweets popular in the Middle East, Greece, Turkey and North Africa, though in a form very similar to rice pudding, and semolina-based rather than sesame.

The teaching was enjoyable throughout the week and the final project presentations and Show went very well. I was very impressed with what they managed to achieve with only a week of preparation - very proud.

Posted by 3Traveller 10:33 Archived in Austria Tagged trains vienna austria museum english_teaching unesco_world_heritage_site Comments (0)

Return to Vienna: Coffee and goulash

London Luton Airport, Vienna Airport and Vienna


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Back in Vienna for a few days to teach a course at a school in the city centre.

I met up with my partner teacher 'M' at Luton Airport, as we were on the same flight. On arrival at Vienna Airport we took the CAT (City Airport Train) into the centre for €12 each, only to find out later that we could have taken the slightly slower but much cheaper S7 train for only €3.90 each - oh well, at least we know now for the return journey!

On our half-hour walk to the hotel we discovered that it was the day of the Vienna Marathon. We walked along the route for a while, with the runners passing by and supporters spurring them on. At one point we were given free goody-bags by a bank. Amongst some boring stuff there were two interesting things; a can of peach soft drink and a yellow plastic poncho - unneeded at the time because it was sunny, but I kept onto it just in case I might use it another time.

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After finding our hotel it was too early to check in yet so we dumped some stuff and then went to a nearby café. I had a lovely 'Grosser Brauner' coffee, but wasn't hungry enough to eat anything. There was a helpful guide to some of the most typical types of coffee in Vienna.

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In the evening M and I had dinner at the atmospheric Seven Stars brewery/restaurant with the other two teachers we'll be working with this week. The Seven Stars is where we all had a drink and some food at the induction weekend back in January - I very highly recommend it! This time I had the most fantastic goulash with one big round dumpling in the middle. We followed that with some ice cream from a place on the main shopping street; one of the two best places in Vienna for ice cream, according to one of the others. I had tiramisu flavour and it was indeed amazing.

Posted by 3Traveller 17:29 Archived in Austria Tagged trains vienna airport austria brewery unesco_world_heritage_site austrian_cuisine Comments (0)

Back in Graz

Deutschlandsberg and Graz


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It was another beautiful sunny day as I said goodbye to Deutschlandsberg and took the train back to Graz.

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I'm at A&O Hostel Graz Hauptbahnhof, where I stayed last Saturday. Since I got back here I've had another lovely walk around the historic centre, taking in the sunshine, beautiful architecture and the view from the Murinsel, a tiny manmade island on the river Mur.

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I also went to the Dom, admired the Gothic and Baroque interior and lit a candle.

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I also admired a fresco on one of the exterior walls which is kept behind glass because of its historical importance; although religious in theme, it contains the earliest depiction of the city of Graz. Unfortunately my photos of it didn't turn out well due to the reflections on the glass.

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Tomorrow I spend the night in Klagenfurt before I fly to Hamburg and take the train from there to Lübeck on Sunday.

Posted by 3Traveller 02:28 Archived in Austria Tagged bridges art trains austria cathedral hostel graz unesco_world_heritage_site deutschlandsberg Comments (2)

UNESCO World Heritage Site: City of Graz - Historic Centre

Graz


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After a smooth and uneventful journey from Maribor I got to Graz Hauptbahnhof (the main train station) at about 11:30 and easily found my way to my hostel round the corner. The hostel is huge - my dorm is on the 4th floor - and feels more like a hotel; it feels a bit sterile, but serves my needs. They did annoy me a bit at check-in though by charging me 3.5 euros extra for bed linen - making this an extra cost, and a mandatory one at that (for people who haven't brought a sleeping bag), seems rather cheeky!

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Anyway, I had all afternoon to explore, so explore I did! The historic centre of Graz is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it's easy to see why! I found it absolutely enchanting.

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After wandering the streets for a while (and buying a fridge magnet) I headed to the Schlossberg, a bastion on a limestone crag which overlooks the rest of the city. For the sake of exercise, and the general experience, I chose to take the path instead of the lift or the funicular. The views from the top were well worth it!

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The buildings on the Schlossberg were closed for the winter, but it was still lovely to walk round. Aside from the bastion itself, built in the 1540s, there are terraces, a small 19th century pagoda, and two clock towers.

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One of these clock towers is a symbol of the city, and the townspeople are incredibly proud of it. In fact, when Napoleon invaded in 1809, they successfully bribed him not to destroy it.

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Before returning to ground level I had a delicious apple strudel at a cafe perched dramatically on the side if the crag and bastion. I had it with a 'kleiner mokka' coffee, which itself came with a small wrapped chocolate sweet and (like all the hot drinks I've had so far this trip) a glass of cold water. I was just thinking to myself earlier that I needed to have apple strudel at least once before I left Austria, so this was a great place to have it!

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Once I'd walked back down the path again I wandered the streets again for a bit before returning to the hostel via Billa, where I stocked up on sandwiches, grapes and drinks for tomorrow, and the Hauptbahnhof, where I bought my ticket in advance. I'd probably be fine to leave getting it until tomorrow, but better safe than sorry when it's important I get to Deutschlandsberg - my next teaching destination - sooner rather than later tomorrow!

Posted by 3Traveller 03:07 Archived in Austria Tagged trains austria hostel clock_tower graz explorations fortifications unesco_world_heritage_site austrian_cuisine Comments (1)

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