We left Wiesbaden early on a May morning - four adults and a young child, at least a suitcase apiece, toys for Mitzi, a blanket or two, a couple of pillows, and some snacks - in a small Volkswagen sedan, ready for adventure. By 8:30 AM, we were on the E35 Autobahn, heading for our first destination, Basle.
Before I get into this too deeply, I need to mention the greatest boon to tourism in all of Europe - Michelin Green Guides. These things are fantastic! They list every single attraction worthy of mention in the nation they're written about, provide maps, give fairly accurate dates for openings and costs for attractions, and do a great job of all of it. We did a lot of our planning by first looking at the Michelin guides, THEN working out everything else. Here's the Corporate link
for the guides, here's another commercial link
, and here's the Amazon
link. If you're heading to any country covered by a Michelin guide, they're definitely the first thing to pack! We started our trip with four packed away - Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Austria. They were well-worn before we returned.
Our route carried us down to the Autobahn heading toward Darmstadt, then toward Mannheim and the Rhine River. Our destination was Basle, on the German/Swiss border. We'd exchange some dollars/marks for Swiss Franks, eat lunch, visit a few sited, and head for St. Croix. There were many places we planned to stop - for a minute, for an hour, whatever was best. The first of those steps was the Emperor Chair, or Kaiserstuhl
, near Freiburg. Today it has its own Webcam
(Remember that Germany is anywhere from five to nine hours EARLIER than the United States - 3:00PM Colorado is 10:00PM, Germany). Of course, the day we were there, it was partly cloudy, hazy, and with a bit of fog, so we didn't see much.
Our next stop of any importance was Basle. Of course, as we continued to drive along the German countryside, sandwiched between the Black Forest on one side and the Rhine Valley on the other, there were always castles, convents, towers, and walls to see, plus something most people don't understand who've never travelled outside the United States - even the houses and common things like gas stations were different. It's the little things like that which cause culture shock - not the big things. Not only are they different in general, but quite frequently they're different between different parts of the same country. The scenery is not only constantly changing, it's constantly shifting!
Basle is a large, important city not only on the German/Swiss border, but also on the German/French and Swiss/French border. The Rhine river runs between the three countries, but Basel is also a major river port for all three countries. There are miles of barge docks along the river from well north of the town itself to dozens of miles east as well. Here's
the city's home page (translated).
Basle is a fairly large city, but was surprisingly easy to get around in when we were there in 1974. Unfortunately, I haven't been back since, so I can't say what it's like today. One thing we did notice were the mobile traffic director's towers that existed at various places in the city.
This one was the first we saw, and the camera came out! Because we were trying to cover as much territory as possible, a lot of our photos were taken out the car window, or through the front windshield. Some turned out well, others didn.t This one, and most of the others through the window, were taken by my wife with a small Kodak Instamatic camera. We weren't there very long - mainly to exchange money and find a nice place for lunch. The lady that waited on me at the bank spoke very good English, and sent us to a place that had marvelous food, but I can't remember anything beyond the fact that we enjoyed ourselves immensely.
Our trip from Wiesbaden to Basle has all been on the Autobahn, the German Interstate. When we left Basle, we drove on one of the lesser federal highways. We stopped one time just because th countryside looked so peaceful and quiet. Walking away from the federal highway toward one of the fields, I discovered eight huge I-beams buried into the ground, and sticking up about four feet - apparently we were close to one of Switzerland's borders, and they still (at that time) kept tank barriers in place!
At another place, we were suddenly stopped by a red traffic light, and a mechanical crossing arm, the type that are everywhere to block traffic for trains. Only, this time, there were no train tracks anywhere, just another road that intersected just beyond the red light. We'd been sitting there for a couple of minutes when suddenly two Mirage fighters crossed the highway directly in front of us, moved off to our right, and took off. We couldn't see the runway, and there wasn't any sign of a military facility in the other direction. As the traffic arm moved up and we drove across the taxiway, my father-in-law looked back to the left and saw a huge set of clam-shell doors closing on a hangar carved into the very mountain itself. After that, we kept our eyes open for military installations, and found a few, but none of them were obvious. I'm sure that for every one we saw, there were a dozen we missed.
Our trip was to take us down through the town of Biel to Lake Neuchatel, and then to St. Croix. Sometime shortly after we left Biel, it started to rain - not hard, just a steady drizzle that was pretty miserable if you were out in it very much. We had planned to stop at Lake Neuchatel for a half-hour or so, but because of the rain, we kept going.
Jean took this photo of the sailboats out on the lake even in the rain. We also learned that, by travelling in May, rather than later in the season, some attractions that were listed as "open" frequently closed earlier than the listed time, and may not be open at all. There was a square castle on Lake Neuchatel that had been converted on the inside to an antique car museum. That had been one of our scheduled stops, only when we got there, it was closed.
The town of Neuchatel itself was a surprise to us. It's built in layers up the mountainside, and some of the front gardens were on as many as four levels. The town itself was beautiful, and if it hadn't been quite so cold and wet, we would have stayed there more than for a brief meal.
are links to the city of Biel. The links to the city of Neuchatel (the twenty or so I checked) were not very pretty. The city needs to do a decent job of creating a website - it's a spectacular city to visit. This site
has some, but you have to page through to page 2 to see them. This site
has some commentary in English about the town, but there aren't many photos.
We finally got to Ste. Croix about 7:00 PM. We were all tired, and checked into the first hotel we saw - the Hotel Jura. The prices weren't bad, it looked clean, and besides, as I said, we were tired. Apparently we picked up another visitor on that trip - someone named "Serendipity" - and she stayed with most of the entire trip! She first showed herself at the Hotel Jura.
This is a postcard I kept from the hotel. We were only one of three groups staying at the hotel that evening, so it was very peaceful. The restuarant there was quite unusual - everything was prepared out in the open, on a huge fireplace in the dining area! Everything we were served was excellent, and the people friendly. It would have been a good stop in any trip, but the next morning made it unforgetable.
I woke about 6:30, totally refreshed. I had wanted to stay in town until the post office opened at 8:00, and the rest of the family was still sleeping. I walked out of the hotel, down a small road, and into an apple orchard blanketed in early morning mist. I will forever kick myself for failing to bring my camera, because that was absolutely the most gorgeous scene of the entire trip for me. Later that morning, Jean took these photos. The apple orchard is just to the right of the telephone pole on the second photo.
My trip to the post office was an experience! I was told by the concierge that it was "just a short walk", and that I should ask for a particular clerk, who was a niece. She didn't say that the walk was 2/3 downhill, that I'd have to go through two walkways where houses had been built up overhead, and that most of the trip would be using stairs! The walk itself was fascinating, but the visit to the post office almost set off a riot! It was still mid-May, so the tourist season hadn't really started in Europe yet. Everyone wanted to practice talking to me in English. It took almost 45 minutes for me to buy the stamps I wanted, and I ended up getting a lot more than what I'd planned, because the clerks kept pulling things out of drawers! I bought the complete issues from the previous three years, plus a mint set of the Swiss Evangelists set - the high value stamps depicting Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the four Apostles. I purchased them at face value, which was 38SFr, or a little over $15 US. That's less than the current catalogue value for the high value alone, so it was a good deal! Just as I left, one of the clerks found a copy of the NABA '71 souvenir sheet, and rushed out with it. I practically ran back to the hotel, before they found anything else there, and bankrupted my limited budget I'd set aside for stamps.
The only disappointment we had was that at that time, the Reuge Music Box company didn't allow tours, and the museum wouldn't open until June 1st.
is a link to the town of Ste Croix, and here
is a link to the unique little railroad that links it to Yverdon. We had to wait for their train to pass at least twice!
Coming soon, Part 3: Ste Croix to Genoa, with stops at Lausanne, Chillon castle, and Aosta.