How to spend 3 hours in Basel

Having previously only ever passed through Basel, to catch an onward bus, tram or train, I had given this city little thought. Switzerland’s second largest city, with such great transport links – Basel SBB (Europe’s busiest international border train station), bus and tram stations conveniently located next to each other, it had seemed to me that people arrived in Basel only to be carried away from here.

IMG_7363
Basel BSS Station

Basel is RICH in history. Basel BSS train station has been here since 1854 and was rebuilt in the 1900s. Switzerland’s oldest University, founded in 1460, is also here. There is a medieval Old Town dating back to the 1500s complete with moat, alleys, houses, fountains and courtyards. This city has no less than SIX bridges connecting one side to the other.

When I found myself with three hours to spare in Basel I was determined to make even a small connection with this enormous city. Whilst sitting in a restaurant, looking for the wine list, I found, “A Journey Back in History”. This leaflet, published by Basel Culture Unlimited, detailed 5 walking tours to discover the Old Town. Each tour named after the town’s famous residents past, could be completed from 30 – 90 minutes. Excited by what I had just discovered, I downed my wine, dropped off my bags in a locker, bought a travel pass and headed out to discover the fascinating medieval Old Town.

Tram NO.8 towards Kleinhuningen takes you to Marktplatz where the walking tours begin. Marktplatz translates to Market Place. And, yes, there is a market here, selling local produce, on weekdays. The bright red Rathaus or Town Hall dominates the square. This 500 year old building is used for local government meetings in the Canton of Basel. The dramatic black arch gated entrance opens out into a magically colourful space. A tiny courtyard is surrounded by walls covered in frescoes restored from 1608-11 originals. Brightly coloured wooden doors lead to council chambers. A staircase guarded by a 1574 statue of Munatius Planks, founder of the town, carries you up to the mezzanine. All of it is simply magnificent.

Directly across the road, at the corner of Sattelgasse, a tiny street between two restaurants, is the starting point of the 5 walking tours. I began the Thomas Platter tour but the signs disappeared 5 mins into the walk and I found myself walking around in circles. However, I was happy that I had this guide, as without it I might have never discovered the Old Town at all.

So, I did what I always do – put away the guidebook and followed my senses. The Old Town is contained in such a way that it’s not possible to lose your way.

I found the Theater Fauteuil, an independent, local theatre – an absolute gem to discover. It’s miniature in size with an interesting schedule of German/Swiss German plays. In my opinion, worth visiting if you have an evening to spend in Basel.

There were medieval alleyways, houses, streets and fountains to be discovered at every little corner of this breath taking Old Town. Having attempted to re-start the walking tours three times, I had lost too much time and did not get to see many of it’s highlights. If you attempt to take the walking tours, try the Thomas Platter walk or simply see the University of Basel (founded 1460) which is the oldest university in Switzerland. The Hans Holbein walk, on the opposite side, should take you to the banks of the Rhine river which runs through Basel. You can also take a ferry across the Rhine from Grossbasel to Kleinbasel, provided you have time. As always, bear in mind that times stated on guide books are not exact but meant merely to guide you. “A Journey Back in History” is a free leaflet available at most restaurants and hotels around Basel BSS train station. It is well worth following as a rough guide (even if you can’t see everything). It highlights all the things you should definitely see; offering an incredible experience for the price of a tram ticket. Absolutely worth your time if you only have a short while to spare.

Whenever I find myself with a more than an hour to spare, whether in a little town or big city, I always try to connect with it. If travelling has taught me anything, it is that there is always more. Nothing is ever as it appears to be. Something interesting has always happened. It’s just waiting to be discovered.

Love,

Demi xx

What’s good Singapore!

As a frequent traveller I can say that I have passed through a few airports in my time. They generally do not stick in my mind for any reason. However, as far as airports go Changi airport is a monster! It was voted the World’s Best Airport (Skytrax 2016). It’s certainly easy to see why. There are grand open spaces with sculptures, art, massage chairs and hundreds and hundreds of shops. If you really wanted to you could possibly spend a couple of days there. The single most memorable thing about Changi airport? Baby changing facilities in the men’s washrooms. Talk about progressive.

Travel and guidebooks list lots to do in Singapore. However, as with any short stay planning your time well is key because this is a great big place. I had no intention of doing everything on my list. So I chose Gardens by the Bay due to it’s proximity to my hotel. There’s a real “otherworldly” sense about Singapore. It’s certainly true here. These vertical gardens are set on reclaimed land and stretch an impressive 250 acres. They look and feels more like a feat in architecture and engineering than in gardening. If you would like a better view of the gardens you can purchase a ticket for the train which takes you up to an elevated walkway. Visitors can walk between each of the 5 vertical gardens.

If you really love gardens then by all means walk the walk.

If you like a little grit every now and again go to Chinatown. It’s vastly underrated in the guidebooks. As the name suggests, Chinatown Food Street is packed full of street food stalls. How many dumplings can you eat in an hour? Well, go find out! The food stalls are packed with locals – a sure fire sign that you’re onto a good thing.

In the midst of the hustle and bustle of Chinatown you will also find the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. It’s a place of worship for Singaporeans as much as it is a museum for travellers and tourists. Standing majestically in the middle of Chinatown it offers a glimpse of everyday life in Singapore.

As with all Buddhist temples you will need to be dressed modestly before you enter. Don’t worry if you find yourself in shorts like I did. Thankfully, cover ups are provided. With 5 floors filled with beautiful and curious objects there is enough here to make your entire trip worthwhile.

img_4132

The ceiling of the grand hall on the ground floor is decorated with hundreds of gold lanterns. Thousands of tiny carved  identical statues of Buddha are inserted into the walls. Each Buddha has been individually carved by a different sculptor and is marked with a unique serial number. Each room is home to colourfully decorated statues. You can purchase flowers and incense from the temple premises as offerings for the Buddha.

There is a lift to all the floors which is handy. The mezzanine floor gives a great view of the main hall below. There is also a wax works museum of prominent monks of Asia on this floor. There is an outdoor garden housing the prayer wheel on the fourth floor. The garden is a riot of colourful orchids. Flowers bloom in abundance here due to the humid climate.

The top floor houses the tooth relic of the Buddha. It sits behind a glass screen in a golden casket. There were lots of people meditating on this floor and no photography was allowed. It took me over an hour to see everything inside this temple. If you are planning a visit make sure you give yourself plenty of time too.

On a broader note, public transport in Singapore is amazing. It’s punctual, affordable and clean. So getting around any where is easy and stress free. There is an endless list of things to do here. It has the feeling of a giant theme park where the fun never ends if you can keep up. There are water parks, night safaris, bird parks and light shows. Millions of dollars have no doubt been spent constructing them. And they truly are impressive.

Would I go back? In a heartbeat! There are places I have since read up on such as Kampong Glam and Pulau Ubin that I would love to explore. Another trip might be in order!

Love,

Demi xx

Travel tip: I travelled to Singapore from Colombo on a 3 night package deal booked with Hema’s Travels, Colombo, Sri Lanka.