I can’t think of a single cool pun or rhyme for Basel, Switzerland so we’re going to have to blatantly say this town is so worth the stopover and coming back to. It was easy to get around, multiple kosher restaurants, charming, and everyone was so welcoming and warm! The airport in Basel has exits to Switzerland, Germany, and France, so choose wisely… it also meant that anyone could be speaking to you in any language at any time. One second I was mademoiselle and then next thing I know I’m talking schnitzel.
The transit system works on a complete honor system, so there is no swiping or talking to the transit drivers – just hop on. It was also punctual, and the transit systems also have monitors everywhere letting you know what the next few stops are. There’s a shuttle that takes less than 15 minutes that takes you to the center of town. My hotel, Hotel City Inn, paid for the shuttle (and also for me to have an unlimited transit card as well) and my reservation to the hotel was my ‘ticket’ – I obviously double checked with the bus driver who confirmed, but there was no need.
My hotel was in prime location at the central railway station (otherwise known as SBB), 10 minutes to all attractions in the area (including restaurants and shuls). Also note – the sidewalk and transit streets are all one, so make sure to look all ways before crossing because everyone and everything is everywhere. The town at night in the winter was enchanting, but also frigid and I ran back to the hotel to plan for the next day.
I started off the day going to shacharis at Israelitische Gemeinde Basel – the community was so lovely! Three men from shul recognized me on the street on their bikes, and pulled over to wish me a boker tov before continuing their ride. I then walked to the kosher butcher shop/grocery store, Jüdische Genossenschafts Metzgerei, to explore the kosher options in the area. After buying some salami for Hungary, I asked to speak to the butcher and ask if I could watch the shechita process (I know, it was weird), and the man behind the counter seemed confused. He said, “mashgiach?” and I was like yeah sure, the mashgiach I guess. I asked the mashgiach if I could watch him through the shechita process, when it hit me hard that he was in fact solely a mashgiach – shechita is illegal in Switzerland. He explained to me that in order for the community to get kosher meat, a shochet must drive to France to slaughter the animals, and when the meat is brought back over the Swiss border, they are heavily taxed. It was one thing to hear this information, and another to process it. My eyes began to tear up, and the only thing I could think to say was, “I’m so so sorry. Stay strong.” The mashgiach replied, “you must stay strong to where you are.” He also told me hunting is legal in Switzerland, and the whole law is completely hypocritical.
The following will be a quick list of sites to see, starting at the butcher shop – if you follow this order carefully, it will take you in a complete circle around Basel. It’s also important to note that Basel has excellent museums, but I chose to skip over them in order to be outside more. (Basel also has it’s own excellent tourist app which will explain sites as you pass them on the map – need good cell service for it to work properly as you walk along the routes.)
- Spalentor/Gate of Spalen – ancient city wall from the 15th century. The old town in the area in general is quiet pleasant. Also, Basel has unique fountains all over the city, including outside of the shul.
- Judische Museum Schweiz (Jewish Museum)
- Rathaus Basel-Stadt – Town Hall of Basel, found in Marktplatz. 500 year old building, can’t miss it with a color like this!
- Pfalz – boardwalk behind Basel Munster that has views of the River Rhine and the old city. Some of the bridges there are pretty old and worth walking over to explore further.
- Basel Munster – a really old church from around 1019 that I didn’t walk into, and I never know if I’m allowed to take pictures, but here is an ancient gate next to the plaza where it can be found.
- Tinguely Brunnen – this fountain is probably an even more magical site to see in the summer, with children running in and out of it. Metal sculptural machines moving around in the water, it’s exciting to watch it in motion!
- Restaurant Holbeinhof – kosher dairy restaurant located in the old age home. Is it awkward this was my favorite part of the trip?? Delicious food with an awesome chef! He even packed me a meal for the plane ride home, filled with authentic Swiss food (Spatzli noodles with a side of mushrooms). In the background of me with the Vermicelles dessert (chestnut flavored with cream and cherry – definitely one time deal), you can see my new friend Peter drinking a beer at 10 am. You go Peter. He’s also in front of a picture of a Basel tradition called Fasnacht, which is a Mardi Gras type festival that happens February time in Basel!
- Haus zum Kirschgarten was a place I wanted to check out, but thought I was cutting it close to my flight. Heads up – flights to other nearby countries are like domestic flights and you only need two hours before instead of three.