Off the beach, out of Croatia, and back to Budapest. From there we took another overnighter, this one west- back through some of Austria, a bit into Germany, and then down into Switzerland. Of what I saw, the Swiss countryside is incredible. The Alps seem to just sprint straight up out of mountain lakes, almost too high to see below the roof of the train. We’d definitely made it to another world than we’d started in for our two-day trek.
All the way to Zürich- Switzerland’s largest city. Apparently we had missed a massive parade by a day. Or only a few hours maybe because the streets were absolutely filthy. But we didn’t explore too much- the priority was to get to the meet spot and find the newest member of the travel crew- Jess’ step-sister and my great friend Robin Cumming, PhD candidate. She’d passed her qualifying exam not even a week earlier and was now in European-celebration mode. We didn’t have too much trouble finding her despite her delayed flight and a tough search for wifi. It was a wonderful reunion indeed.
The question then became- now what? Originally we’d thought we had a friend in Basel- a large yet charming city about an hour west of Zürich by train (and therefore halfway across the country- it’s a pretty small one). In fact, one of the main reasons that Zürich was the rendezvous place was because we thought we had a friend to meet up with and a couch to surf not too far away. But in the days before arriving it became clear that friend was going to be too busy to host the people making an effort to see her on the other side of the world. Disappointingly, it turned out she’d be too busy to even return our calls when we were roaming the streets of her new city.
But, Couch Surfing and it’s many wonderful patrons had our backs yet again. When I realized we might not have a place in Basel, I got on writing couch requests (about two days before arriving- right on schedule). That’s how we found Oleg- a most awesome Russian software engineer who has lived in Basel for something like 8 years (he’s currently trying to achieve Swiss citizenship). I sent him my sincere request and got back something like “Yeah, that should work out. Here’s my phone number, call me when you get in.” So we still took the train to Basel where we called up Oleg who gave us directions to his cool apartment on the southeast side of town.
After dumping off our stuff Oleg offered to give us a tour of the inner city. We were a bit confused about why we’d need swimming suits and a dry-bag until he told us that the water of the Rhine flowing through downtown is safe, if not encouraged, to swim in. Swim suits it was! We floated the surprisingly quick river, with loads of others like us, for 3 bridges or so, then climbed out just across from downtown. Oleg showed us the old center, the university, and some other sites before we made it to the botanical garden where the blooming agave plant had inspired a tequila exhibit and tasting room- of course we partook.
The next day was a long one as we hoped to take full advantage of the tandem we’d rented for the ladies (Oleg kindly let me borrow his bike). Oleg’s flat was right on the Birs river- a feeder to the massive Rhine River which flowed though downtown. Along the Birs was a biking trail that went as far as we were willing to follow it. We rode south up the river, passing through incredibly colorful forest, going up and over a couple hydrology projects, and crossing bridges whenever we felt like it. We finally make it all the way to Dornach where we climbed a hill to Goetheanum- the world center for the anthroposophical movement. I’m not exactly sure what that means, even after being there, but it was an amazing set of buildings with stunning architecture upon a hill with quite a view. Not a bad place for lunch.
We took the trail a little further into the next town before turning back. We wanted to have time for a mid-afternoon skinny dip in the Birs, as well as a German beer before having to return the tandem. We made it all the way back, past Oleg’s, through town (on the way taking advantage of one of the many public drinking fountains that are constantly flowing day and night- that’s how much deliciously fresh water they have here), across the Rhine to the north, on the freeway a bit (that’s where the bike lanes take you) and into Germany. See, Basel sits on the border with Germany and France- it’d be possible to walk through all three countries in one day for sure. We only had time for a nice evening beer in Germany. Then it was back to return the bikes.
We started out worried that we’d be stranded in Basel without a friend, but ended up wishing we could stay longer to hang out with our new buddy Oleg. On our last night we taught him how to play gin-rummy (which he destroyed us at) over beer and pizza we’d imported from Germany (WAY cheaper, even just a few hundred meters across the border). Needless to say, the fun flowed like snow-melt off the Alps. Very early the next morning I had a flight to Barcelona where I would meet the masterful Keith Bailey once again. Robin would see Jess off in Zürich, then head to Barcelona as well where a new travel team would see what a new country had to offer.
A couple things. Jess- you completely surprised me with how epic of a travel buddy you were. You are one of the hardest trekkers I know. It was a pleasure to kick Eastern Europe’s butt with you- it couldn’t have been better any other way. Thanks again for being down for anything- the sketchiest times are my favorite to look back on. You’re welcome to crash one of my travel parties anytime.
Oleg- you not only saved our butts in Basel, you also made it a wicked good time. Thanks for everything. If you ever make it out to the silicon valley to show them what’s up, let me know- it’d be fun to hang.
More old news to come.