Aren't you border this? Three Countries in one day #2

The worst thing which happened yesterday is that nothing really went wrong. I'd been desperate for something to break down just so I could wield the pun "Basel Faulty" but alas, no dice. So it's relegated just to a meta-mention in this paragraph. Boo.

To be honest, when I booked these flights the only exciting thing was that I would be visiting a new country. But as with "oh, Innsbruck has amazing views" I also learnt a few days later that Basel is at the tri-point of Switzerland, France and Germany. Obviously visiting 5 countries in a weekend was enormously tempting, so my plan for Sunday was to nip into Germany for a beer before going to the airport, which is in France. And Switzerland. Simultaneously. More of that later.

When I first woke up the weather was nice, but by the time I finished blogging it was pissing down. At reception I paid my enormous bill and asked the receptionist how to get to Germany. "Well, where do you want to go?" "I don't really care. Just, y'know, since I'm so close..." She seemed largely ignorant of how I might achieve this. Thankfully I had only really wanted some bonus advice, having already done research myself. Originally I was going to visit Loerrach, and a brewery, but the service to there is only hourly and my free ticket isn't valid to there, so I had hastily re-planned and decided to get tram number 8 to Weil am Rhein.

Leaving my bag at the hotel, I went to the tram stop and missed an 8 by seconds that wasn't even going as far as Weil am Rhein. Oh well. It was only 11am, I had a few hours and thought, hang on, maybe I should actually have a look round Basel too? The rain had stopped so I walked towards town and the river. At least, I thought I was doing that.

FIrst up, some statues or other. Then some roadworks. Numerous places to buy diet cola, none of which were open. It's grey and bleak and cold and miserable and very enjoyable. At the next tram stop it says there's an 8 to WaR in 11 minutes. Can't be bothered waiting that long, so on I go and, oh, hello, here's the pedestrianised city centre. Nice.

Everything is shut. There's barely anyone around. I'm still thirsty. I veer away from the tram lines and weave through numerous streets and some of it looks like it might be pretty, on a sunnier day. Like this thing at Marktplatz.

I try to find the river, but am briefly intrigued by some mystery stairs.

But, at the top of that photo, the stairs continue for as far again and I think: sod this. Oh, and also, I'm not exactly going to find the river by heading upwards, am I? So I retreat and wander through other streets full of closed shops and barking dogs and end up back at another bit of Marktplatz and, oh! There's an 8 to Weil am Rhein pulling in right now. Let's do that.

It goes over the river, which looks nice enough, and then through some newer part of town with more closed shops. In fact everything is shut except for kebab houses so far. Within a couple of minutes all the touristy stuff has gone and it's just drab boring streets of drab boring buildings. I'm plotting progress on a map, largely to see if I can figure out how long it'll take, and then I spot something interesting. Just after the Swiss/German border is a bridge over the Rhein... into France! Fantastic.

The first border crossing of the day, by tram, is hyper-bleak. Not only is the weather relentlessly grey, the Swiss side is nothing but huge factories and industrial horror. On the right is a hotel and on the left a disgusting looking shopping mall. I fail to get off and we turn right; at the next stop I detram and go back. There's still nowhere open except kebab houses. I just want a little shop to buy a diet coke, damn it. Oh, and I need euros now I guess.

Back at the roundabout there are three flags. There's a small park celebrating the three-country-ness of the whole area. But bloody hell, everything's so grim. Feels weird to be at a roundabout in one country and able to see two national borders though.

Right then. Off to France I go. The bridge is cold and windy and it's spitting with rain. The views are bleak in every direction. It's fantastic. For the second time in three days I'm stood straddling two countries over the Rhein. Have it.

Carrying on into la belle France, I'm delighted that the first thing I see is a pub. And it's open! But perhaps I should explore a bit more first. This is, apparently, Huningue and centre ville is just up there.

Indeed, 2 blocks away is the town square. There's a Christmas market in presumably-not-full swing; it doesn't even fill the whole square. But there are people around and the sun comes out, briefly. There's also a shop in which I can buy Pepsi Max and speak ENTIRELY IN FRENCH for the whole interaction. France 1 Switzerland 0 Germany 0.

I walk a bit further, but there's nothing going on, so back towards the border and, fuck it, I'll have a pint. Into the border bar. Who wouldn't want to go to a venue like this?

During my time there I contemplate borders. Through the windows of this French bar I can see Germany and Switzerland and I wonder what it was like during world war 2. I'm sat in an Allied country, and a few hundred yards away is an Axis country and a few hundred yards more, a neutral. What on earth went on here?

Anyway. Finished my French pint and wandered back across the bridge into Germany. Time was ticking a bit by now, and I gave up on the idea of seeking out beer in Deutschland. Bit of a shame, I had liked the idea of drinking in 5 countries but 4 isn't bad. So, back to the roundabout and then, ah screw it, shall I cross the German/Swiss border on foot too? Why not.

There's public loos just beyond the tram stop and I'm really not sure what country they're in. It's quite possible the ladies are in Switzerland and the gents in Germany tbh. The border does have a bit of an Actual Border Post feel to it, but nothing's doing. Customs is a box with some writing on it. There are no police or other public officials anywhere. Just a bunch of cold people waiting for a tram.

Back into Germany and the tram comes to take me back into Switzerland. I'm pretty sure I just made 4 border crossings in 15 minutes. Very pleased with myself.

The tram is heaving full. Everyone's going into Basel, so I assume things may be open by the time we get there. I get off just across the bridge and double back to walk across the river and take some photos 'n that. As I am stood waiting to get a good shot of an old looking tram, a loud Englishman says in super-stereotypical tramspotter anorak voice to his obviously disinterested companion "WELL YOU SEE, THE TRAMS LOOK OLD BUT OF COURSE THEY'RE JUST MADE LIKE THAT, THEY"RE ONLY ACTUALLY 20 OR 30 YEARS OLD". Whatever mate. Trams are cool and one of them is being driven by Santa.

The weather continues to make Basel look theoretically rather than actually picturesque. But something catches my eye on the river.

No, not the swan. Look further. There's a little weird boat thing going back and forth. Here.

The little weird boat things! I forgot about those. They're these little weird boat things that probably are boats, but theiy don't use sails or engines: they're attached to a wire and pulled across. So I carry on across the bridge and down the footpath, arriving just in time for one to go across. There are only 3 other passengers and not one of them stands outside on deck. Why wouldn't you stand outside on deck! This is awesome!

See? Attached to a wire.

Back on the correct side of the river and through the streets. Marktplatz is now heaving busy with loads of stalls up including one selling whiskey cheese. Mmm, whisky cheese. But actually I can't stop, I'm pretty much done now. There's only one thing left to do which is buy cigars for Alex. It didn't occur to me at the time but now I realise that 2016 has been pleasingly symmetrical: January and December both involving a trip to Switzerland and cigar purchases. Ace.

The purchase took some doing since the post-Brexit exchange rate makes it nothing like as much of a bargain but I get the order on Facebook and I'm done. Then it's time to head back to the hotel and pick up my bag.

The bus to the airport goes from just next door, by the world's greatest off licence which still looks shifty and horrible in the day light.

Apparently it's only a 15 minute bus ride, which means I can afford to skip the first one and go get something to eat in the station. By now it's 2.20pm and I've not had any food, oops. So I get a big fuck off buttery pretzel and wolf the damn thing down. As it happens, the bus I let go was a stopper but the next is an express anyway. So long, Basel.

It really is only a 15 minute drive, too. I think, but am not certain, that the roads we're on are officially swiss despite the airport being in France. Actually this airport has a huge identity crisis thanks to its location. It has at least 2 IATA codes: BSL (for Basel) and MLH (for Mulhouse, the French city just up there) and possibly another one for Freiburg, since that's what the sign on the outside says.

Loitering outside are hobos and armed military folk, all having a smoke. Inside the terminal, the whole building echos to the sound of a ridiculously loud screaming child. Most signs are in German and English, because I'm in the Swiss half of the building. France is just over there.

Well, whatever. I go upstairs and through fast track security, which isn't very fast because there's a group in front of me taking folk in wheelchairs through (this is not a complaint!). As I did at Heathrow on the way out, I set off the machine when I walk through so they swab me - though unlike Heathrow, they target my hands and, er, belly. You what?

But I'm not covered in contraband and carry on through. The first thing I note about Basel airport is that there are pinball tables dotted around the place. Metallica pinball in an airport! I really should have stopped to play this.

But, I didn't. Never been to this airport before and yet another slice of luck occurred, a few weeks after booking, when someone on Flyertalk posted an in-depth guide to why they consider the lounge at BSL to be one of the best in Europe. This I was excited to see.

Wow. The lounge at BSL must be one of the best in Europe. I don't mean in terms of outright decadent luxury - there's no massages or waiter service or full meals or whatever - but for a lounge that's not even run by a particular airline (you can even just rock up and pay) it's great. Spacious, pretty, champagne available, and a large open air roof terrace. You heard!

There's this cute and pointless water feature with bridge on the ground floor, next to a "pizza bar" that wasn't open at the time.

And then upstairs there's loads of space and light and seats and fast wifi and frankfurters mit kartoffelsalat. And accidentally alcohol-free beer.

Also these private little kiosks if you want to avoid everyone.

When I arrive there's only 3 other people there. I can see a BA plane on a nearby gate and it's boarding. That would explain it: this place was probably very busy not too long ago, but just emptied.

A few glasses of champagne, lots more people turn up, it actually turns into a bit of a crèche. Meh. About 45 minutes before scheduled departure I realise I haven't gone through passport control yet, and really don't know how far the gate truly is, so I should probably pack up and set off.

Simply so I can wear a different hat (international hat goes away, domestic hat comes out) I end up repacking my rucksack and losing the little thing out of my right wrist's fitness tracker god damn it. Hopefully it's still in the bag somewhere.

The gate is near and boarding hasn't started. There are 3 distinct queues, the priority queue itself split in two. Within about a minute they announce business class and gold card holders can get on, so I join the priority queue that's. moving and a woman comes to check that a scruff bag like me is entitled to be there. Which I am. So there.

Onboard I'm in seat 10A, way back from business but with lots of legroom because it's an exit row. This means I can't put my bag on the floor, but I discover that my manbag actually fits in the seat back pocket anyway. Hurrah!

No-one sits in 10B, much to my delight and surprise because the plane is really very full. I think this may be the first onboard benefit I've had of being a gold card holder (where possible, they block seats next to us exalted types, don't you know. We like our privacy. Also no-one wants to sit next to people exuding such horrifying smug self-satisfaction anyway).

We take off on time. The sun is setting and looks pretty. Just before airplane mode kicks in I manage to download a few episodes of Last Podcast On The Left, so that once in the air I can doze off listening to comedians talking serial killers.

The onboard snack is served. Seriously, just get on with allowing us to buy stuff. This is a joke, right?

After that, I really do doze off. Nothing happens. The window is fogged up and scratched to hell so there's no nice views anyway. We land on time at Terminal 5A, fantastic. Fed up of those satellites. In the queue for the passport oyster gates the bloke behind me complains about how slow they are, all the while failing to notice this queue is constantly moving while those at the desks are painfully slow.

Out, Boots for a coke zero, and to the local bus stop. I'm so bored of the piccadilly line. This wait is actually quite long, but from then on my journey is basically perfect: I get to Hatton Cross 1 minute before the express bus to Kingston, which itself arrives 2 minutes before the bus to Surbiton. From touchdown to my flat including shops at the airport and locally takes only around 100 minutes, which I think is excellent.

And then I'm on my sofa and, oh. That's 2016 travel done. Resolution kept! Best start looking ahead to 2017 I guess.

Created By
Darren Foreman

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