What am I doing in Switzerland?

The supplements for using the fast trains up through the spine of Italy were much more modest than the Italian boys had led me to believe (10 Euros for each leg of the trip) although the scheduling got me into Basel later than I would have liked. Bea, Lou’s mother, had been intending to cook a special Swiss meal for my arrival but, in the event, we supped on a couple of glasses of rouge and bonded over our experiences in the field of art/play therapy for children in hospital. Bea is an art and craft teacher and paediatric care specialist and she was very complimentary about some of the British techniques of using play to lessen the trauma of treatment for serious illness.

We then bonded even more when I sat down to remove my boots and Lou’s bed collapsed. A quick phone call revealed that it had been temperamental for some time but every time we balanced it back on the frame on one side it fell off on the other. Bea was trying to suggest giving me her bed for the night but by that time I was laughing so much I wouldn’t hear of it. I slept very carefully.

The next morning, armed with a map and a picnic, I set off to discover that Basel is in fact on the Rhine. And very “Rhennish” it is too. Rain threatened but I managed to make it to the museum before the downpour. Beautifully laid out in an old church, the Historiches Museum contains some breathtaking exhibits: the cathedral treasury, secular gold and silver work from the Guilds and Societies and a whole gallery devoted to medieval tapestries in a fine state of preservation. The good Burghers of Basel liked to keep their magnificent possessions in perfect condition and many are clearly presentation pieces “for display purposes only”.

I did my best to photograph them but it is really impossible to get much more than an indication when the exhibits are behind glass and you are not allowed to use a tripod. Not that I happened to have one with me, you understand. The museum also boasts a considerable collection of objects from a sixteenth century Cabinet of Wonders. It is not as complete as the one in Uppsala but what there is is probably better displayed. And just to prove that I’m really getting a bit of an education on this trip I visited the special exhibit of the Dance of Death.

This version of the fable originally existed as a series of paintings on the wall of a cemetery in the old quarter of the city and, such favorites were they with townspeople, when the wall was demolished in the nineteenth century a number of pieces were preserved. They do not have the grandeur of the more complete version on display in Tallin but their humanity and popularity exhibits a sense of humour not usually associated with the period just after the reformation. Personally, I think the schadenfreude of seeing the city nobility and bigwigs brought down alongside the carpenter and the baker has a universal appeal.

I apologise for placing the picture of the special hygienic, rotating toilet seat alongside so much culture but I’m afraid I was so impressed with this miracle of Swiss (?) engineering that I had to run it through its cycle a second time for a photo. After the museum I went to the railway station to discover that I could shave twelve hours off the final part of my journey if I caught a train at 1931h to connect up with an overnighter to Barcelona. It seemed more than a little ungrateful to miss Bea’s specially planned meal for a second evening but the alternative was an unpleasant roundabout trip that involved changing in Paris. I called her up and explained so she decided that I could not go off without a hot meal and, in a miracle of Swiss efficiency, produced a delicious combination of veal, mushrooms and cream in under twenty minutes.

I then used up my last few Swiss Francs (and believe me, they don’t go very far) for a bus ride to the station and caught my train with a suitably precise five minutes to spare.

Categories: Europe


  • Chris says:

    It sounds like you made the best of a short visit to a very interesting place

  • Sandy says:

    Interesting that I read this and saw the fabulous rotating toilet at the time the Joes had removed mine to replace the yellow vinyl floor with porcelain tile!

  • Chris says:

    Have you managed to upload the film link that I sent you about the cabinet of wonders at Uppsala yet?

  • nicola ainsworth says:

    Yes thank you, and to open the rest of the site and see that there is lots more information in there. The trouble is that it is all pretty low-resolution and so the pictures wouldn’t be good enough for giving a talk. As you can see my indoor photography isn’t up to it either. I’ll just have to take you along next time.

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