Today no long tiring bike ride over 150 km, but a wonderful train journey that will take me straight from Strasbourg to the heart of the Swiss border city of Basel.
I have enough time in the morning and have breakfast in a restaurant near the hotel. It is very small; a maximum of 8 people can sit. A number of people trickle in wanting a sandwich and a quick coffee. I feel like I am breaking into the daily rituals of these inhabitants of Strasbourg. The owner of the restaurant keeps a close eye on everything as her daughter puts the cutlery, napkins, butter and jam on the table. The daughter tells me a little too loudly that the jam is not really made by her mother, but by her grandmother. The mother reacts a little embarrassed but everyone thinks it is very funny.
I take a French breakfast with beaten eggs, croissants and yogurt. The coffee is mercilessly delicious and is ground per cup with a noisy machine. As a result, there is not much opportunity for an animated conversation. People aren’t talkative anyway. I get the feeling that life is the same for my breakfast companions every day. Images from the movie “Groundhog Day” and the play “Waiting for Godot” come to mind. They come here every day for breakfast and then go again. After a second cup of coffee, I never know when the next opportunity will arise, I leave again. I leave the hotel and go to the station.
There is a special area where my bike can be parked. Well, hung up is a better word. I sit so that I have a good view of my bike and my bags. The journey to Basel only takes 1.5 hours and it is very restless in the compartment. There are 2 chattering women, each with a child on their lap, a traveler with lots of photo equipment who sings and moves along with the music on his phone with earplugs. A father animates his 2-year-old son with videos on his phone. I recognize the French version of “the wheels of the bus go back and forth….”. And like most children it doesn’t matter how many times something like this is repeated in a row, something that adults think differently…..
This whole scene goes on for about half an hour but is brutally interrupted by the conductor. The father has no tickets and orders them on the spot for his family; without fines and discussions. In the Netherlands you will immediately be fined because you do not report it in advance. I will encounter many cultural differences during my trip.
When the train enters Basel I am happy to get off; cycling again, because that was what I wanted. Basel is an old, but also a modern city. Just like in Strasbourg, it is being modernized without demolishing the old buildings. History and culture go hand in hand here.
When I stand in line at a kiosk to order a coffee, I see my predecessor paying with beautiful and brightly colored money. I suddenly realize that I don’t have Swiss money and I leave the line to withdraw it. The Swiss money is indeed of a special beauty because of the bright colors; actually a shame to pay with.
Due to the train journey, I suddenly have a head start on my travel planning and decide to cycle only about 30 kilometers today and then stop in the town of Liestal. As expected, the first hills are starting to appear outside Basel and I am getting ready to feel how steep they are and how my condition is. After some small hills I reach Liestal and I actually have no idea what my physical condition would be like if the gradients were allowed to increase.
Because I didn’t know in advance when I would be in this area, I didn’t book a hotel room, which almost cost me dearly. After 1.5 hours of texting, calling and asking people on the street, I still don’t have a place to sleep at a normal price (a room is offered via the internet for 900 euros per night), while it is already five o’clock in the afternoon. An older lady tells me that there is probably still a room available at hotel “Engel” (Angel); there is always room, she assured me. She is indeed right. A room has been canceled just before I enter and I have luck on my side. There is still an angel around…
The receptionist is on the phone and speaks the language Hermann warns about in his book; “Schwizerdütsch” is spoken here. When I receive it, I explain to her that I had already been warned by my family and show Hermann’s book. The receptionist thinks it’s very funny and tells me the reception again at my request, but in that dialect.
The hotel is perfect; modern, very luxurious and I can ride my bike straight through the hotel over the chic carpet and put it in a closed room. All this has a price tag of 179 Swiss francs per night. Suddenly I understand the looming sense of lack of money that Hermann also experienced during his journey.
Since Switzerland remained neutral during the World Wars, many historic buildings have been preserved. I soon find the location of the inn “zum Stab” where Hermann stayed. Today it is called “Stabhof”. While photographing this building I realize that there are flags all over the streets. Something that I had noticed from Basel to every village. It makes me feel that the Swiss are proud of their country. Something that will be confirmed in the next few days by the Swiss I speak about.
After the meal I put together the program for the next day and I know that tomorrow is a tough climb over the Hauenstein pass on the program. It’s about time I found out about my climbing condition…