Two weekends ago I travelled down south to Basel to meet up with old UVic History Department colleague and chum(ess) Nicole, who is doing a similar language assistant gig, though in Bordeaux, France. We had arranged to meet in Switzerland, or more specifically the Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg Airport, the world’s “only” tri-national airport, as she had found a cheap flight with EasyJet to get there. I only had to figure out my own way south, some 400km to be more or less specific.
Luckily (though sadly) my neighbours have been gradually moving out, and one of them happened to be moving to Basel of all places, and offered me a ride down. So there we were, after spending a lovely spring afternoon loading up the truck and saying goodbye to Trier, that we found ourselves rumbling along regional roads in France en route southward. We passed gorgeous and picturesque pullouts along the highway, and French towns with creative names like “Bitche”. While eastern France might not be the most beautiful place in the world, the sunset was we hurtled past Strasbourg was one of the best I’ve seen outside of my home shores along the Sunshine Coast.
My (now) ex-neighbour let me out just shy of the Swiss border, back in Germany in a little city called Weil am Rhein. I would have to make the rest of the journey alone, with the train. It was to be a short ride, just hop onto the train and trundle over the border into Kleinbasel, then over the Rhine into Basel proper. Before she dropped me off though I had romantic images of walking over the bridge into Switzerland, through what had to be a beautiful Dreiländereck or a corner where three countries met. I soon abandoned this idea when I saw how dark it was and how ugly Weil am Rhein was. It had an ugly little train station that seemed more like a re-purposed cargo depot, with a scummy little underground passageway between platforms that doubled as the only local toilet.
Before long a train arrived to whisk me away to Basel, where I did my best and failed to find an actual border guard. I did see one bored-looking German border official, but I left him alone, always the best bet when dealing with German bureaucrats. I then had some time to kill before meeting Nicole, but it was getting late and I couldn’t imagine seeing much of Basel that late at night. I withdrew some Swiss francs from a bank machine, and I don’t think I’ve seen such futuristic money. Annoyingly however when I came to pay the bus driver for the ride to the airport, he squirreled at me in some Swiss-German, the jist of which I took to mean that I didn’t need to pay him, and would have to negotiate my passage with that Automat over there, in the dark corner, behind the bike racks. Besides, it was his Feierabend, or quitting time.
An aside: Swiss German – my first experience with the patois or at least its tremendous effect on High German (what I make the occasional attempt at speaking) was during my post-Christmas return flight. It’s a sing-song, happy sounding language, not entirely unlike what people imagine Welsh to be, I’d guess. I would recommend anyone interested in attempting the language should approach it with a cheery disposition and a great deal of phlegm.
Having gave the machine my last few Euro coins (it refused to accept my newly acquired Francs, the villain) I went and met up with Nicole, where we then proceeded off to meet up with our couch-surfing host on the French side of the border. It was my first experience with couch-surfing, and he was quite friendly and funny.
TO BE CONTINUED!