Trip Report: Basel, Florence, Rome
May, 1997

10 days in Basel, Florence, Rome

I'm back! Basel - Florence - Rome ... a fine vacation.

BASEL

I began with a visit to my college buddy, Steve, in Basel — a charming city and world banking center on the Rhine in Switzerland.

In Basel the streets are clean and the trams run on time. It is a land of order and efficiency, crime seems non-existent. Steveís wife exclaimed at how safe she feels there. Quite a contrast with Rome, where I was cheated at the subway ticket booth (a cheap lesson at 8000 Lira, about $5); also, at a major plaza outside two museums, I was followed for half a block by a teenage boy who I'm sure wished to pick my pocket.

FOOD

Basel is right on the border with France and Germany, so after a few days of local exploration, I made day trips to each. During our tour of the Alsace region, Steve and I lunched in Colmar, France, my first feast: choucroute is a regional specialty. Called Berner Platte by the Germans (i.e., a plate for the stout folk of Bern), it is a pile of sauerkraut surrounded by potatoes and pig derivatives (ham, bacon, pig's feet pate, and a couple kinds of sausage). We made a valiant attempt.

Speaking of food, I did miss American breakfast. What do they do with eggs if they don't eat them in the morning? German-influenced Basel did have some nice pastries: the ubiquitous apple fritters are quite tasty, and Berliners are jelly-filled donuts (now you know what JFK meant when he said "Eich bin ein Berliner"). I also had something very nice on toast in Italy: hazelnut paste flavored with cocoa — just like chocolate butter! It was interesting to note how common warm milk was, something one doesn't see in the states. Italy, especially, had much to offer: pasta, gelato, cookies! Yum. And of course, pizza. (Did you know it was invented to display the colors of the Italian flag: basel, tomato sauce, mozzarella).

THE BLACK FOREST

Using my EuroPass, I took a day trip by train to Germany's Black Forest, where such folk tales as Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel & Gretel originated. I visited Staufen where Faust lived — yes, he was a real guy. An alchemist, he blew himself up in his lab in an inn which still stands there (apparently suggesting to Goethe that Faust had been called to Hell by the devil). Despite it's posted hours, the Faust museum was closed. Hmm. Nevertheless, I had a fine hike up the local hill to visit its castle ruins (very picturesque, surrounded by vineyards).

ROAD TRIP

Steve and I took a 3-day road trip through the Swiss Alps, staying in Italian and German speaking villages. I found that I could express myself equally well in both languages — poorly. Switzerland's pasture lands and mustard fields added lovely greens and yellows to already dramatic landscapes. It was the most beautiful place Iíve ever been.

FLORENCE

Florence is beautiful in another sense, dense with paintings, frescoes, sculpture, architecture. Each year, dozens of tourists suffer overload and are picked up for treatment of Stendahl's Syndrome, a destabilizing reaction to the monumental achievements that fill the city, which shatters their sense of identity and leaves them feeling insignificant.

ROME

Florence and Rome are crowded with art and history — which makes parking difficult. "Motocicli" and 3-wheeled vehicles are popular, as are tiny snub-nosed Fiat clown cars. Rome has an excellent subway system. The taxi ride from the station to my pension was an abrupt introduction to the excitement of driving in Rome. A Roman would be right at home driving in Manhattan.

TIPS FOR YOUR NEXT VACATION:

  • If youíre planning to call home and check your voicemail, remember that US-compatible touch-tone phones are not common in Europe.
  • Travelers checks are dead. Just take your ATM card and youíll get the same low exchange rate used for credit card transactions.
  • Take a compass to orient your maps. Especially useful in Italy, where street names change almost every block and narrow streets make it difficult to see landmarks. I got lost a lot!
  • If youíll be doing museums and galleries, invest in art history books. I was surprised at how rare explanatory text was, much less in English. (And consider taking your opera glasses to appreciate those ceilings.)

MISCELLANEOUS NOTES:

  • Michelangelo had a last name! Buonarroti.
  • Wine was inexpensive everywhere I looked (Germany, Italy).
  • I saw lightening 10 times during an evening storm in Switzerland!
  • Bellinzona, Switzerland, has fabulous castles (3 of them!)
  • Vivoliís in Florence offers rice flavored gelato! Excellent.
  • Every great city has a river: Basel, the Rhine; Florence, the Arno; Rome, the Tiber.
  • Galileo's finger is on display in the scientific history museum in Florence!
  • The term "cosmos" was coined by Galileo to honor his sponsor, Cosimo of the Medici family.

But, you know, thereís no place like home.

Happy travels,
Kendall

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