Switzerland: Basel, Zermatt, & Saas Fee, June 12 / June 27, 2013

Michael J. Ferguson

Journal Index


1  Introduction
2  Montreal to Zermatt, Wed. June 12 / Thurs. June 13.
3  Zermatt, Fri. Jun 14
4  Zermatt, Sat. June 15
5  Zermatt to Visp, Sun. June 16
6  Saas Fee, Mon. June 17
7  Visp to Brig and Kandersteg to Frutigen, Tues. June 18
8  Frutigen to Basel, Wed. June 19
9  Basel, Thurs. June 20 to Wed. June 26
10  Basel's Roman Ruins, Augusta Raurica
11  Huningue, "C'est Party"
12  Huningue to Montreal, Thurs. June 27

1  Introduction

I lived in Switzerland in 2002 and was able to travel extensively. Zermatt and the was one really notable place that I missed. This was to be my time. After studying the continuously changing fares on Air Transat's web site I settled for two weeks instead of the three that I preferred. I also decided to go on their first flight of the season, June 12. Th three week fare returned on July 4, in the very high season and was over $300 more than the two week fare. After much thought I decided to go directly to Zermatt from the Basel-Mulhouse EuroAirport. I also bought my ticket in advance over the internet to reduce the delays on the ground when I arrived.

2  Montreal to Zermatt, Wed. June 12 / Thurs. June 13.

The weather forecast in Montreal, Basel and Zermatt appeared quite nice so there were no worries there. The ride to the Trudeau Airport was a little wet but no real problems. Since I will be taking trains frequently I modified my equipment to try and make it possible to pack my trailer and bike without having to unpack the trailer. I also added wheels to make it easier to roll all the stuff around. My packing time was reduced to about 40 minutes from 90 minutes, but it turned out the system was fragile. The trailer wheel axle was broken when I arrived in Basel, and so rolling was a problematical. The schedule was very tight, having to leave the airport just two hours after I arrived. However, there were later backups so I was confident of making it. In fact, I cleared immigration and retrieved my bags and was ready to go in about an hour. The bus is very convenient, leaving about every ten minutes. I arrived at the Bahnhof with plenty of time. Unfortunately, the trailer wheel totally collapsed and it was impossible to roll my stuff. I had an unfortunate Heart Valve incident at the Basel airport and one of my fellow passengers who witnessed it, saw me at the station. I noticed that she had a baggage cart, and asked her where she found it. It was quite close, but required a 2 Swiss Franc coin to get it. I had Euros but no Swiss Francs (SFr). She offered to give me one but did not have any left. So then she ran around looking for change, finally found some, and brought me a cart. I was then able to find my train, which I had carefully chosen so there was no change in Bern. I also found an ATM and was able to get Swiss Franc bills, and coins from the bank. I bought delicious salami sandwich and waited for my train. My next trial was in Visp where I had to transfer to the small train to Zermatt. I missed my scheduled train while looking for a baggage cart, but was able to get the next one with only 25 minute delay.
The weather was glorious on the ride up, with the mountains jumping spectacularly out at you and the villages hugging the hills. I put my stuff together on the platform (no baggage carts) and found Matterhorn Camping about 200m from the station. It is small, but comfortable.

3  Zermatt, Fri. Jun 14

Although the weather was glorious while I was putting up my tent, it rained during the night. It is now just after dawn, but very heavily overcast. I found an almost totally empty gas canister so was able to have coffee this morning. A camper from Beijing said that I could find some at the a sport store by the Bahnhof. I did, later this morning, just after I had provisioned at the Coop grocery store.
My major dismay today was the discovery that my camera would no longer focus, except at one distance, which was almost impossible to find after turning it on. It is probably only useful now for a paperweight. It was clear that I needed a new camera, but in all my wandering I never did see a photography store. I asked about this at the tourist office by the Bahnhof and was directed to the Migros grocery store. I also discovered that the office had free WiFi solving another problem.
The Migros had cameras, but only the small "point and shoot" type with a screen. I dislike them intensely because it is almost impossible to see what you are taking, and absolutely impossible to produce a precise picture. With little choice, I settled on one with a 5x zoom. I will miss the 26x zoom of my big camera. Somehow I had to figure out a way to block the reflections on the screen to make it usable. My solution, which is far from elegant, is a paperclip box with a small hole in one end and my 3.25 power map reading glasses. It is inconvenient, but should work. After buying an SD memory card, which was not included, I was ready to wander around town.
Zermatt is split into New Zermatt, on the Bahnhof side of a canal and Old Zermatt on the other side.
Interestingly enough the oldest part of Zermatt, Hinterdorf is in New Zermatt. It was a complete surprise. I discovered it by accident.
Of course, it is the mountains, especially the Matterhorn, that attracts tourists. I will be seeing much more of it in the next two days.
I returned to Matterhorn Camping, which is just across the street from the Best Western Alpen Resort Hotel for supper and a hot shower. It was a good day.

4  Zermatt, Sat. June 15

It rained again during the night and is now overcast. However it burned off again early morning just before I started up on the Gornergat Bahn cog railway to the mountains by the Matterhorn. It was a slow delightful trip, passing some small villages, leading to the snow.
At the top, Credit Agricole was advertising their precise banking services.
From here you have a 360 degree view of a world of glaciers and mountains, and of course, the Matterhorn.
I was also delighted with the mountain goats.
Going back down, I was treated with another brilliant view of the Matterhorn.
By early afternoon, I was back in Zermatt. After checking my email, I returned to camp to improve the camera sun-shield box for my camera. At the top, a woman was trying to take a picture of the mountain goat. The screen was so hard to see that her husband was holding a coat over head to block out the sun.

5  Zermatt to Visp, Sun. June 16

Today began with brilliant sunshine and no clouds. Just before I left, I saw the Matterhorn for the first time without any clouds.
The road was down, most of the way, except for several long hills just outside of Randa. It also was very narrow in spots and had to accommodate the existing farm buildings.
Tasch was the first town, about 5km below Zermatt. It was full of parking lots for the people to stash their cars before arriving at car free Zermatt. The campground there was depressing, full of RVs and no tents.
There were a number of small towns on the way, of which St. Niklaus and its suburbs, Herbriggen and Mattsand were the most charming.
Just outside of Visp, there were several small towns, perched high on the cliffs, with magnificent views but quite distressing for a daily commute to Visp by bicycle.
I arrived at the quite pleasant Mühleye campground in the early afternoon and have a very nice place under the trees.

6  Saas Fee, Mon. June 17

It was another beautiful and clear day. I arrived at the Post-Auto bus station at about 7:15am and was on my way, after packing my bike, to Saas Fee by 7:40am. It is very steep uphill, especially on the switchbacks for the few kilometres between Saas Grund and Saas Fee. The early morning sun left the valleys in shadow. I will have to go back to Visp in the afternoon.
Although Saas Fee has been transformed into a modern resort, you are greeted by some old farm buildings as you arrive.
One thing that has intrigued me about these buildings are the supports. It seems to me they are over-engineered.
Then the normal type of image emerges.
Saas Fee is surrounded by mountains and delights the senses.
My guide books said that the trip to Mittelallalin was spectacular but I could not find the beginning. The only working gondola seemed to be the Panorama Hennig and it did not show up on any of the maps. However, I could see it and threaded my way through the streets to its base.
From the top, you could follow trails all around the summit or just absorb the mountains. I decided to just absorb the mountains, and to have lunch at the summit restaurant. It was just about noon, and it was then that I decided to go back to Visp after I came down.
The mountains were, indeed, comforting.
Some people opted for the trail down, but I decided to humour my health.
I started back to Visp at about 3:00pm and discovered, that unlike coming down from Zermatt, it was totally down. There were deep valleys, small towns, and finally the mountains behind Visp.
I arrived back at Camping Mühleye at about 5:30pm. It was a good day.

7  Visp to Brig and Kandersteg to Frutigen, Tues. June 18

The ride to Brig was one of utter frustration battling the Garmin routing errors. It had me making 180 degree turns sending me on a way that was obviously retracing an old route. I had two similar locations near the Brig Bahnhof Station and when I gave it the second one, it started to make some sense. One compensation was that I was routed through the Brig main plaza. It was a nice relief.
From Brig, the train went over and through the mountains to Kandersteg, which is at the top of the road on the other side. It is a resort town with the children screaming their delight in a swimming pool.
There was a little climb out of town, but from then it was mostly down, the exception being some small valley towns, with six to eight percent grades.
I arrived at my campground in Frutigen at about 6:00pm, completely exhausted.

8  Frutigen to Basel, Wed. June 19

I started out of Frutigen and almost immediately decided I did not like the routing given me that started by going straight uphill. I turned around and eventually was being sent out of town in a more convivial way. Contrary to the comments of one of the other campers, it was not downhill all the way to Spiez, where I was going to pick up the train to Basel. One nice thing about the trains from Spiez to Basel, is that they all go through Bern without a change. The Spiez that I saw was quite uninspiring and I don't think I missed anything not staying. The countryside was pleasant but hardly breathtaking, or even quaint. I arrived in Basel in the early afternoon, found a baggage cart, and went outside to put my stuff together and retrieve my 2 SFr. After about 8km, with interruptions by the Police refusing to let me ride through an area that was being prepared for construction, I crossed the Rhine on The Three Nations Bridge into Huningue, France and found Camping du Petit Port. I was exhausted and was treated to some soup by a concerned cyclist camper. The French end of the bridge is right beside the Petit Port with its swans,
The other end has the Rheincentre, a shopping centre where I rode a little later to get supplies. Much to my surprise, everything was being sold in Euros.
About 200 metres before I reached the bridge and the Rheincentre I passed by a rather decrepit looking construction site.
This, it turns out is the Switzerland/German border post so I had ridden about 250 metres in Germany before I reached France. The actual German/France border is in the middle of the bridge, and the point where Switzerland, Germany, and France meet is about 100 metres up river in the centre of the Rhine.

9  Basel, Thurs. June 20 to Wed. June 26

The Altstadt of Basel has most of the interesting destinations. Although there are many museums, I tend to concentrate on the streets, houses, and plazas. The most famous plaza, the Marktplatz is the home of a daily market and the famous red Rathaus or city hall.
Surrounding it are narrow streets, mostly leading up the hills that enabled the Romans to fortify the town.
The small houses were also a delight.
One of the most striking things about the old town were the number of decorative pillars, mostly guarding fountains of flowing drinking water.
The inside of the St. Alban Gate shows that the city was serious about security.
Both the left and right banks of the Rhine had a bicycle path or small road but on the left bank it was interrupted quite frequently. The right bank was continuous right into the industrial area.
Several park benches had been nicely decorated by a local artist. The soft braiding was quite comfortable.
Basel does not seem to have many examples of modern architecture that entices tourists. One I had heard of was on the Novartis Campus designed by Frank Gehry. The Campus is surrounded by a three metre fence with proximity card gates that would not even allow a bicycle to pass. I took the picture from outside one of these gates in a designated smoking area for n employees. Given the overt security, I didn't even try to get in as a visitor.
The only other building I saw that was of any note was the International Bank of Settlements in the Bahnhofplatz. It is responsible for the Basel 1, 2, and 3 set of banking rules that are keeping the banks safe and solvent.

10  Basel's Roman Ruins, Augusta Raurica

Augusta Raurica was a Roman town of 20,000 about 20 km out of Basel. For me, though, the highlight of the day was as I was riding through Basel. I noticed a road kill in the other lane of an animal I did not recognize, It was certainly not a dog, cat, or squirrel. I stopped to look, and discovered that it was not a road kill. It was still alive and twitching. It was so stunned that it lay limply in my hands as I took it over to a ledge by a hedge. As I was leaving, the baby Pine Marten had stirred and was walking away behind the bushes.
Augusta Raurica itself was a bit of a disappointment. The only impressive ruin was the Roman Theatre. It has been extensively restored and was currently having a wooden stage added to provide a real outdoor theatre experience. The entrance was originally only halfway up the seats.
Across from the theatre were some stairs and a small temple complex, mostly gone.
It appears that the object of the site is to provide a learning experience for students. There were several school groups there when I arrived, and they seemed to be the only other visitors. The amphitheatre is the venue for gladiator contests held by the Gladiator School that operates through the museum.
The final ruin is the Temple Grienmatt.

11  Huningue, "C'est Party"

Huningue, the small French town on the French side of the The Three Nations Bridge held a weekend festival while I was there that they called "C'est Party". It's name would have given the Québec, Office de la langue Francaise apoplectic fits.
The highlight of the festival was a collection of wooden games in the Espace Abbaticco, the main square.
There also was music, with several classical ensembles, but the crowd pleaser was Les Frelots, who got them dancing.

12  Huningue to Montreal, Thurs. June 27

Although there was rain, sometimes very heavy thunderstorms, on and off all week, Wednesday was dry and so was my tent. The short 8km ride to the EuroAirport was cool and relatively easy. I had ridden it before so I was confident about not missing any turns.
The flight back home was almost totally uneventful, except for the initial complication when I tried to check in. It appeared that I was not on the passenger list and I was told they could not board me. A Swissport agent phoned Air Transat in Montreal, and after some delay, they put me on. My window seat was one of the ones on the Airbus that does not actually have a window. Although I had started first in line, the delay probably resulted in a less than best seat. However it was cloudy the whole way so I didn't miss much.
Everything arrived safely in Montreal, and I recovered my bicycle and trailer. Along with my bicycle bag, there were at least eight other bicycle boxes that were unloaded at the oversize gate. This is evidently a good time for cycling in Europe.
The ride home was nicely cloudy and cool. It was a good trip.

File translated from TEX by TTH, version 4.03.
On 01 Jul 2013, 09:40.