Sunday, 16 October 2016

Floating down the Rhine in Basel

My latest European road trip, last month, began just across the channel in Lille, in cool 6 am darkness. Somewhere around Reims or Épernay there was a pit-stop at a roadside L'Arche for coffee and a croissant, before driving on through French farmland, and by 11.30 we were well into the Vosges and Alsace. Things were getting German. 

At lunchtime we were in Basel, Switzerland, looking down on the Rhine.

It was a hot Saturday, 29 degrees, and in the Rhine were not only pleasure boats but also loads of swimmers - or floaters, rather.
The Rhine runs through the centre of the city in a strong, fast current. All through summer, the thing to do in Basel is jump in the river upstream and let the current sweep you along.

There's nothing to do but float, enjoying the sun on your face, for miles ... with a specially designed waterproof bag that sells everywhere here for keeping your clothes and belongings dry, doubling as a flotation pillow to hang onto. And when you hop out, there's a bus to take you back to where you started! Swiss efficiency.

Before I dipped a toe in I was going to need to know how clean the water was! Pretty damn clean, it turns out. Billions of euros have been spent on cleaning up the Rhine and keeping it that way. I'm in awe of how Switzerland and Germany manage to be industrial and manufacturing power-houses of Europe (Basel is the hub of the pharmaceutical industry) and at the same time the leaders in green-ness and preservation of the environment.

Les Trois Rois, one of Basel's grand old hotels, is the perfect place to drop in for a drink or lunch on the terrace with a view

This is a distinctly people-friendly city, I discover, as we walk across one of the bridges closed to all traffic except for the trams which silently criss-cross the city. 

Public transport is not only efficient and 'green', but also cheerful ...

In the Marktplatz and Theaterplatz everyone was enjoying the last of summer days
and street food ...

This may be one of the most expensive countries in Europe, but hugs were free from this friendly guy!

At the Basel Münster there were games of boules under the trees

and at the extraordinary Tinguely fountain where mechanical sculptures play with water, children were dipping their feet and dodging the spray.

Besides pharmaceutical company headquarters, Basel is most famous for being a major art centre of the world. There are more art galleries and museums concentrated here than in most far bigger world cities 

Kunstmuseum Basel

I was impressed by how well older buildings blend seamlessly with modern ones. Town planning here (as in Germany) and protection of the natural environment are fantastically well done.

Did I mention that Basel is spotlessly clean? I watched street sweepers cruising the streets at the crack of dawn, and people carefully hand-sweeping the pavements in front of shops and hotels for the odd cigarette butt or stray leaf. 

I was sorry to leave Basel on Sunday morning, after a last linger on the bank of the Rhine where early swimmers were already doing their floating thing, and cyclists were freewheeling alongside the river. 

What a civilised, liveable city. All I need is a Swiss bank account and I'm moving right over there.

Basel, Switzerland, September 2016

Monday, 29 August 2016

Cape Town mountain walks and an inspirational woman

When my mother drives to work, as she does every day, this is where she goes.

Her 'office' is Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, one of the most famous botanical gardens of the world and surely the one with the most spectacular natural setting.

As one of Kirstenbosch's leading guides, an expert on the region's flora, she has walked and talked many many hundreds of visiting botanists and plant enthusiasts from all over the world around these gardens.

(See here for why this UNESCO World Heritage listed area is one of the world's six Floral Kingdoms - by far the smallest yet by far the richest in diversity)

For her family, this means we score with the best possible guide for the mountain walks and trails that Cape Town has in abundance, and which she knows like the back of her hand.

Leading the way - on Table Mountain paths, in May last year ...

and at Silvermine Nature Reserve, April this year ...


Inspecting the cycads at the gardens of Babylonstoren, April this year ...

Passion for her work and for life is what has always driven her.

On her 80th birthday, her gift to herself was an abseil - she fulfilled a dream by launching herself 1000 metres into vertical space off the top of Table Mountain ... 


I've been a little afraid of what she might have been planning for today, her 90th birthday.

Celebratory lunch two days ago (photo Ann Swanepoel)

The only thing I'm sure of is that she'll continue to be an inspiration.

Happy 90th birthday, Mom! May the paths continue to open up in front of you 
with many great adventures ahead.

Cape Town, 2015 & 2016

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