I left Minty in Basel for a week.
Not because she’d been bad.
And because she hadn’t been bad she got to stay at the lovely Camping Le Petit Port at Huningue, just the French side of Basel. Surrounded by trees, Polly and Minty had a near constant chorus of bird song.
From there a walk over the mighty Rhine on the Three Frontiers Bridge gets you to Germany, and another smaller bridge over a canal drops you into Switzerland.
Border crossings are notorious haunts of criminals smuggling illegal people and goods.
They wouldn’t be doing their job if we could see them.
What we could see crossing the border was loo roll. Hundreds of rolls of toilet paper.
Whole shopping trolleys full.
Hey and that’s a thing too.
The folk on the French side seem to treat the €1 deposit on a shopping trolley as an acceptable tax for an easy walk home.
They load up at the utterly huge and fantastically stocked German supermarket. Then each couple pushes two trolleys (one with assorted shopping, one reserved for loo roll) over the bridge to home.
Once unloaded they simply leave the trolley in the hedge somewhere.
Every day some poor fellow from the supermarket spends his day pushing a train of trolleys back over to Germany.
Vitra – design heaven.
Basel is best known for its pharmaceuticals, but just outside the city at Weil am Rhein is a temple to modern furniture design. The Vitra Campus.
After the factory was destroyed by fire in 1981 the company invested heavily in the architects it relied upon to promote its beautiful wares.
Zaha Hadid was commissioned to design its fire station, an angular concrete and glass sculpture that now hosts events.
Tadao Ando created another largely concrete pavilion.
Frank Gehry designed an exhibition space.
Many people will recognise the VitraHaus, home of the furniture exhibitions and designed by Herzog & de Meuron. If this is as far as most visitors get they will still have a treat.
IKEA brought the roomset concept to the general public in the 1980s.
Vitra elevate it to a thing of beauty and aspiration.
Simply wandering through this space inspires a whole new approach to home living as you move from classic to classic, each one costing as much as we’d spend on a car.
Just as exciting was to see furniture groups outdoors in the over grown garden, inviting people to sit among the tall grasses and admire the buildings in a natural setting.
Contrast. Bring me contrast.
After all the high end furniture stroking we retired to the van. A short drive through the rain took us to Bad Sackingen where we found our parking spot beside the Bergsee lake.
The new leaves of the forest are freshly washed and green shines through again.
Enclosures of boar and deer help ensure that we see some of the relatives of the creatures that dwell deeper in the trees. Huge snails take it easy crossing the path, but best of all was this beautiful slow worm.
Another border. Switzerland.
The barns are bigger. The houses are enormous. And somehow it seems even more orderly than Germany.
Wild flowers abound, and they’re beautiful, but even they behave with a sense of discipline.
No litter. No dog poo. No graffiti.
Robot lawn mowers lie in wait, observing the grass, ready to scythe through any blade of green that dares break rank.
It’s beautiful to drive through, but I couldn’t live here. I’d be forever in fear of doing something wrong.
The Rhine Falls.
We’re en route to friends on Bodensee/Lake Konstance, but thankfully our blog friend MB had suggested swinging by Schaffhausen, better known for the Rhine Falls.
I’ve never been to a major waterfall before, but I have now.
600 cubic metres of water a second go over the fall in summer.
That’s a huge amount of water.
The noise is deafening.
Even standing on the side is frightening.
The drama builds from first glimpse high up, to lower and louder, until you’re right beside the water and your ears are pounding. The final and best stage takes you onto a concrete platform cantilevered out over the water.
It seems inconceivable that such a volume of water can keep going.
Day and night.
I might go and check later – I suspect someone turns it off at midnight.
Pleasure (I use the word lightly) boats take tours up to the base of the falls and you can pay for 15 minutes of fear, or go for a full 30 minutes in torture class.
The utterly insane take the yellow boat. It docks at one of the fragile looking rock teeth in the middle and its passengers are left there as their boat careers off to collect more fools parting with money in exchange for certain death.
During the day it’s a reasonable €5 to join the throngs of Indian and Chinese tourists snapping a thousand photos a minute, and that was good.
What was even better was to return at 9.00pm when all but the dedicated low light photographers had gone back to their hotels.
Alone the intensity is there to be absorbed only by you.
And at night it’s free. Just push through the turnstiles.
Stein am Rhein.
Such beauty often lies just off the road.
The lucky, and those in the know, come across special places while most of the world thunders on by.
Our blog friend MB also suggested a stop at Stein am Rhein.
It was a Swiss holiday on Thursday and rather a lot of people had the same idea, but that didn’t detract from the enjoyment of this pretty medieval town.
Its large painted houses take the style to a new level, it’s overlooked by the Hohenklingen Castle, and has the Rhine gushing by.
As you leave the town the river widens into Lake Konstance. There are lush green fields to the right, the lake bobbing with sailing boats to the left, ahead snow capped mountains, and all taken at a leisurely 50kph, the limit through built up areas.
We met our friends Michael and Gabriella when they stayed at Archavon Studio a few summers ago. Last night we called on them and were treated to a fabulous fondue, great wines and then a whiskey tasting.
It transpires that the Swiss are almost as mad for Scotch as the Japanese.
There was also Santis, an excellent Swiss single malt that tasted sufficiently different to deserve a name of its own.
Michael and Gabriella certainly don’t conform to the super strict behaviour of their neighbours. They’re great fun – but they do still have a robot lawnmower!
Michael sent us to Appenzell.
Yet another achingly beautiful and utterly ridiculous Swiss town.
Other than their V8s and Hogs they don’t even make any noise.
In Appenzell they make whiskey. They make Appenzeller, a herby digestive. And they make beer. They clearly make a lot of money too – the houses here were even bigger, and it’s only when someone steps out and gives you a sense of scale that you understand how vast they are.
Just in case Switzerland wasn’t rich enough and manicured enough, we took a narrow mountain pass through yet more incredible scenery to drop into Liechtenstein.
There are 37,000 people in this small country. And 37,000 jobs. Half of the workers commute in daily from Switzerland, Germany and Austria.
It must too have the highest proportion of insanely expensive and powerful cars of any country in Europe.
According to CIA.gov it has the highest GDP per capita anywhere in the world, exceeding even Qatar and Monaco, and it seems that the young are spending it all at the temples of Mercedes, BMW and Audi.
Whatever the wealth, our car park at the sports ground of Triesenberg has views of the snowy Swiss mountains to one side, and the green southern slopes to the other, dotted with pretty chalets. It’ll do nicely for today, but it feels a long way from real.
Julie Andrews is calling. I suspect that by the end of the day the hills will be alive with the sound of (Austrian) music.