Ahhh… *cough* *cough*
If there were any doubt left in my mind, the saturation of cigarette smoke in the air was confirmation enough that I was back in Europe. Nicotine and tar never smelled so good.
Since 2003, my first non-family, two month backpacking trip around Western Europe, I must have reprogrammed my mind to view this continent as my North Star.
To put it mildly, I love it here.
The proximity to so many different countries (split between cultures, languages, and landmarks) and their various revisionist histories opens an endless amount of intellectual pathways for those willing to walk them. The ability to gain so many different perspectives, within a 1-2 hr flight, in my opinion, is invaluable; especially in countries like Switzerland where most people you meet aren’t really from Switzerland.
Currently I’m hanging my hat in Basel, Switzerland, condo sitting for a good friend of mine and learning to embrace absolute solitude. Too often in life, I think we let the voices around us dictate our thoughts, actions, decisions, even if consciously we don’t recognize it at the time.
Solitude is hard. Mainly because contextually we classify it as loneliness, the big bad word that haunts the dreams of many; but once your mind has the opportunity to reframe and redefine, the thoughts and possibilities that arise from from within can be life-changing.
One voice is sometimes all we need.
As for my new surroundings, Basel is the 3rd most populous city in Switzerland, a small yet beautiful place that exudes organization and elegance; while at the same time clinging to the natural beauty of its history and of course, the Rhine River.
My condo is beside the Voltaplatz tram station and for me, there seems no better place in the city to live.
In the evening, 2 minutes walking and suddenly I am beside the river. A pathway filled with people barbecuing, drinking, swimming, socializing or just sitting together discussing their lives. It is truly something out of a contemporary Woody Allen film. Just steps over the river and I find myself in a park with soccer nets, a beautiful double basketball court, and lots of open green space for picnics or other games. I haven’t experienced an evening yet when this park wasn’t overrun with people. Incredible.
Downtown is a 20-25min walk but if I am in a rush, rarely, I’ll jump on the #11 tram which is part of the most efficient public transport systems I’ve ever experienced. From my discussions with locals, all of Switzerland is like this; trains, trams, and boats all coordinated into one orchestra of order. It’s really quite impressive.
And speaking of quite impressive… Swiss prices. Oh man.
Now, I’m not talking about the, “Wow, what a deal! I’m really impressed.” type of feeling. I’m talking, “WTF! How are you snakes charging me 4 CHF ($4.50 US) for an espresso and getting away with it?! That’s impressive.”
I’ve learned to associate grocery shopping and evening dining in Switzerland with walking into a local pick pockets meeting with a blindfold on. But interestingly enough, I’ve also come to enjoy that all of the products sold in the country are of a higher quality, and their prices are inflated because their wages are as well.
But aside from the financial achievements of the country, Switzerland so far, has been everything I had hoped. This country may not claim the penchant for passion that Spain or Italy cling to as national treasures, but they certainly make up for it in civility and perspective; Characteristics that are overlooked far too often.
And though I look forward to returning to the mighty city of Barcelona in August, right now, Basel is treating me like a kind old friend and I am perfectly fine with that. J