Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Can You Tell Me How to Get…How to Get to…

…Hammerstrasse?  Apparently, you first have to leave Zurich and head to Basel, which is what we, in fact, did. After bidding “so long” and “farewell” to the fam, we hopped on a train that Trofie Wife believed was way too luxurious given the small price we had paid for tickets. I was convinced that we would be tossed off prior to reaching Basel. By the time I had finally convinced Martello of our error and we had collected our things, the train doors had already been sealed and we were thus stuck, forced to sheepishly turn around and find new seats. Luckily, the conductor found no fault with our tickets (and if he did, he forgave us our ignorance and Martello forgave me my freaking out), and in less than two hours, we found ourselves in Basel.

At the suggestion of the guidebook, Martello booked a room at the Easyhotel, which is owned by the same folks behind Easyjet (a company with which I wasn’t familiar, but apparently runs very cheap, groovy flights throughout Europe). The staff at this bright orange hotel (!) bent the rules and granted us entrée to our teensy, but totally adequate (and very fairly priced for Switzerland) room prior to official check-in time. After a full inspection, we headed to a transit depot (with Trofie Wife spotting the Hammerstrasse sign en route) to find a bus to Germany. Yes, Germany. A local bus runs just over the border to Weil Am Rhein, where the Vitra Design Museum is located (annoyingly, you have to pay in Swiss francs on the way in to Germany and Euros on the way out). With Switzerland now part of the Schengen Agreement that allows for free movement between countries party to the treaty, the borders have been dismantled, adding an aura of economic distress to the businesses that used to thrive on their positions along them—various truck stops, fast food spots, and, um, adult entertainment establishments. Nevertheless, there is a decent amount of tourist traffic headed to the Vitra Museum, so this is one border area that shouldn’t be too greatly affected by the change.

Vitra is renowned for its ultra sleek furnishings. In recent decades they have opened their factory grounds to a museum housing their multitudinous designs and commissioned buildings and structures from some of the biggest names in architecture—Frank Gehry, Tadao Ando, Zaha Hadid, Grimshaw Architects. (For more information, see 

Clearly, Martello was going to have a snap happy afternoon. Although the architecture tour is normally given in German, the guide (who was also the ticket cashier) was fluent in English and took pity on us, briefly translating into English after finishing lengthy explanations in German. The two-hour tour was almost entirely outside, and it was a frigid, German day (granted, it was also pretty cold back over in Switzerland). Most of the participants were clearly design professionals/students, oohing, ahing, and pointing their flashes at every corner and angle; Martello had found his people. Given the participants' passion, our guide stressed the importance of staying together, and Trofie Wife reminded Martello of this point several times. Yet even bereft of his trusty shoe bike, Martello still managed to wander far afield from the rest of the group, leaving the guide to either ask where he was, or, when she noted my concern, say that he was on his way (I guess she had figured out that she could trust him and that he wasn’t going to walk away with any souvenir tiles or lighting fixtures).

After crossing back over to Switzerland, Martello and I spent an hour or so before closing time at the Museum Tinguely (, devoted to the work of the Basel-born kinetic (and anarchic) sculptor, Jean Tinguely. Tinguely’s works are amazingly whimsical and fun to play with/watch unfold. However, Martello and I do have great sympathy for the museum’s guards; they must go insane listening for hours on end to the creaking, beeping, and crashing noises made by these practically living sculptures. 

Post-museum, we returned to a pan-Asian place we had spotted near the transit depot. Given its reputation for cleanliness, it’s bizarre that Switzerland does not have a public smoking ban in place while smoke-obsessed (and less clean) countries like France and Italy do. It was quite bizarre to be dining so close to smoke with no exit strategy. When we finally did exit, we decided to walk around the town center for a bit. We stumbled upon the Rathaus (well, it's actually pretty hard to miss), which has been Basel’s seat of government for nearly 500 years. It is a gorgeous shade of red with exquisite details (see frog below) and has undergone extensive renovations in recent years.

Following our evening stroll, we returned to our orange room and broke out the Swiss chocolate. Yum!

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife 

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