Day 2 of my 9 day European road trip started out in Strasbourg, France and went south into Switzerland for three stops along the way. Here are the highlights from my time in Basel, Bern and Lausanne, Switzerland.
Best known for pharmaceuticals and my favorite tennis player, Roger Federer, Basel is a nice little city. It sits on the Rhine River and is a very pleasant place to be. It is nothing spectacular by any means but like many things in Switzerland, it’s just really nice, pleasant and you can’t point out anything bad.
There’s not a ton of stuff for the tourist to see on the surface. Basel is however, a cultural hub for Switzerland with a lot of theatres, museums and performing arts. It is also located where Switzerland meets both France and Germany so it is a big mix of cultures. To be honest, my favorite site was about 20km outside of Basel. It is called Augusta Raurica and it is a Roman Ampitheater ruin that has been nicely rebuilt but it is still interesting.
Walking around the old town is the way to see the city the best, if you can dodge all the streetcars that have no interest in slowing down if you’re in their way. There are a ton of shops, restaurants, cafes and museums.
Basel is also a place for banking, like any city in Switzerland and there is no shortage of Swiss banks all over town. Not to mention watches. If you’re in the market for a Swiss watch, Basel is as good as anywhere to pick one up at a bargain basement price of $30-$40,000 for some Rolex’s I saw. I passed.
Bern is a gorgeous town. It is also the capital of Switzerland and consistently rated in the top 10 cities in the world to live in for quality of life. I can surely say that Bern is a great place.
This was actually my third time in Bern and while the weather wasn’t great, the rain held off so we were able to walk a ton and sample some local cafes and restaurants. The old town is a world heritage site and seemingly goes on forever in this style of architecture you can see in the picture above. It is pretty awesome to see.
The main tourist site aside from all the government buildings is actually a huge clock in the middle of the massive walking street going down the old town. It reminds me a bit of the clock in Prague’s old town square. Everyone gets all excited right before the hour with their camera ready to go and video cameras on and then the hour strikes…and nothing happens. Well nothing exciting at least, it just chimes and some stupid little guys spin around. Anyway, skip it unless you happen to be right there at an hour.
The thing I always think of for Bern is the Aare River. It is so beautiful and surrounds the city, actually cutting it in half. Rivers in interior Switzerland have a color and cleanliness that no other place except for New Zealand has in the world. You want to just jump in…well not off the bridge I took this picture from because it’s about 500 feet high!
Lausanne is a really nice looking city situated right on the shores of stunning Lake Geneva. Lausanne has some great hotels, restaurants and anything else a banking businessman could want for his quick trip to Switzerland. However, for the normal person not on an extraordinary expense account, Lausanne is bloody expensive!
Quick example; since we had been eating all day yesterday, we weren’t hungry for dinner so we just sat at a café and ordered a coke and a water. The bill came and it was 10 euro. This café wasn’t even in the center; it was off the side down an alley, literally. I won’t even mention how many hotels I stopped at to see if they had availability and ask how much. Average price for a mediocre at best room was $450. I ended up negotiating a steal at $200 for a crappy room in a two star hotel and I feel I won!
That aside, the town itself is pretty cool to walk around. It is typically Swiss in that it is very pleasant without a doubt. It is very clean and sophisticated. It lacks real sites except for an OK square and a cathedral that doesn’t compare with others in Europe but for Switzerland it’s pretty good.
Lausanne is also home to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and there is an IOC Museum in Lausanne that I was really excited to see. However, it is closed for renovations until 2013. In its stead they have a temporary exhibition across the street on a boat in Lake Geneva. It is terrible and not even worth the free admission. Slightly disappointing but a nice city nonetheless.