February 25, 2018, 10:06 am
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A paradise for introverts

Text and Photos By 
Monica Macasaet


“You’ll love this place,” my friend said, “it’s a paradise for introverts.”

I wasn’t sure what that meant, but her Instagram stories were full of picturesque walks, a few ducks here and there. The only thing I knew about Basel was Basel III and Roger Federer.

I arrived in Basel after a layover in Istanbul (Turkish Airlines is one of the few major airlines that fly directly to their airport). One moment I was in France, the next I was in Switzerland. 

My friends took me on a quick walk around the city, explaining the history behind some buildings, and wow, this place is old. It is well-preserved, well-situated. The remains of its fortress walls are still there, along with its gate, the kind you see in medieval movies. 

Basel has been an important city since the Roman times.

Rich and cultural—once ruled by prince-bishops—it now hosts the grand yearly Art Basel event and is home to pharmaceutical giants whose towering HQs bookend the city. 

This place was, and always has been, unassumingly influential.

We passed houses with dates that dated back from the 1500s and 1400s.They were lovely and quaint; they looked old in that storybook way, and some doors had their knobs right in the middle, reminding me of the Shire.
The rest of the week was bright and sunny, unusually so for October. 

The Rhine was sparkling and people were clustered along the big steps on the riverbank, reading, talking, sunbathing, watching the current. Rarely any electronics in sight, save for a Kindle here and there. 

I would walk along the river, getting distracted now and then by the swans on one side and all the off-leash dogs on the other. My friends mentioned that all the dogs in Switzerland must be licensed and trained (entailing training for owners, too), so if you really want one, you have to be very willing to go through the arduous process of obtaining and keeping one. “Did you notice that none of them bark?”

There was activity everywhere, but it wasn’t hectic. No cars to dodge, no people to squeeze through. There were a lot of bikes. A lot. I marveled at an old couple biking slowly but steadfastly uphill. 

Whole families would ride bikes to and fro, the smaller kids either strapped in a seat behind the adult, or in a wagon attached to the bike. 

Biking was part of their formal education, my friends told me; the Swiss learned how to bike on any terrain.  You pay more taxes that go towards the public transportation system if you buy a car, so biking was the way to go.

I would find a spot by the river and sit down for hours at a time. I’d watch the ducks, watch the current, read my book, sketch the old buildings on the other side of the river. It was an amazing experience. I had no idea the sound of a river could be so calming. 

I’d keep going back and eventually my face got sunburned. We’d see people swimming in the river (“It’s very clean!” my friend laughed at my expression) and one time, a group of four middle-aged women rowing.

I was amazed with the elderly people there. First of all, there were a lot of them. Secondly, most were couples, slowly walking together or hand in hand, sometimes biking together, sometimes wheeling the other so they can sit and watch the river. 

They were out, and active, and together. Maybe coming from the Philippines, where our population is a triangle and young people are everywhere, I just wasn’t used to seeing so many healthy, active, elderly people out and about.
Other than the laid-back vibe and the wonderful riverside, I also took advantage of Basel’s reputation as a very Museum-dense city. 

We went to the Kunstmuseum, which has an impressive collection of artwork. You’re greeted by a Rodin in the courtyard and, once inside, you’re covered from ancient artifacts to halls of Dutch masters to the famous impressionists to Picasso to Rothko. 

I was happy to see a lovely self-portrait of an artist named Augusta Roszmann, since we so rarely see work by women.

There is also a hall of landscape pieces that I found special since it’s particular to the country. 

There were large works of mountains and lakes, so beautifully painted, either hyper realistically or with special attention to the light and shapes and shadows. 

I was particularly fond of the Ferdinand Hodlerpieces as he seemed to capture the experience of looking at a mountain as much as merely looking at it.

There was also contemporary art that ventured on “what the heck is going on” territory, the kind where you get to watch a grainy black and white film of a car driving down a bridge for thirty minutes. There was something for everyone.
We also went to the Cartoon museum Basel, which hosts contemporary, satirical, caricature art. 

Christophe Niemann was on exhibit, and I was excited to see his work as I recently learned about him from “Abstract: The Art of Design” by Netflix.

The exhibit was fun and engaging; Neimann’s works are accessible and cleanly clever, sometimes whimsical, tongue-in-cheeky, observant. 

Then we went to Basel Paper Mill, a little museum and functioning shop that is in the business of papermaking and book printing, a tradition that is native to Basel, where one of the first publishing houses was founded. 

Seeing the medieval paper mill and all the processes of making paper and text was fun; you felt just how much effort it took to print a book back then, how valuable paper and the written word was.

I understood now why this is a “paradise for introverts.” It may be modern and efficient, but it moved at its own pace and allowed you to take a breath.
 
Here is what a city that loved its place looked like: they took care of their piece of nature and it loved them in return.

The people were polite and minded their own business but convened when the sun was out to really talk to each other, with no phones in sight. (Fine, I did notice one downside: a lot of people smoked). 

But overall, Basel was peaceful, rejuvenating, and kind. It feels wonderful to visit a place and connect immediately to what makes it so special. 

“The food’s not so good and it’s pretty expensive,” I was told, “but everything else makes up for it.” 

I can’t argue with that.
 
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