I have a cardinal rule of cruising and it has nothing to do with a cruise. I will never fly into a city the day that any cruise is beginning – you just never know what can go wrong. Also, flying in at least one day before gives you a chance at getting over jetlag. Following that philosophy my friend and I flew into Basel the day before the cruise was to begin.
We booked our flights with the cruise line – something I never do but their rates were so good. We had a choice of Delta or KLM and we chose KLM for two very important reasons – EU261. That’s the EU regulation that protects airline passengers for delay – any delay other than extraordinary circumstances. I know that weather is a non-covered reason. Basically if you have a delay of mechanical, etc and are on a European airline flying into Europe you are covered/ The amount depends on the distance you are flying and how long your delay is. The maximum that you can collect is 600€, even on an award ticket! The other reason is that European airlines, or for that matter, almost any airline other than American airlines, have better food and nicer/friendlier flight attendants.
We upgraded ourselves with points that I transferred over from one of my Chase credit cards that gives Ultimate Reward points to Premium Economy and that gave us a little bit more room and something I would suggest. Arriving in Amsterdam we had about a two hour layover. We then took a regional flight to an airport near Basel, Switzerland. My trusty travel agent booked us at the Hotel Spalentor, a lovely boutique hotel. When I wrote to the hotel prior to our arrival inquiring how to get there from the airport, they told me that our confirmation letter was our bus passes. They gave us easy directions on how to get there. Luckily my friend had no problem using public transportation. We went three stops to the train station and changed to another bus, went three more stops and there was our hotel.
It was a small, boutique hotel with a large room at least based on European standards. There was a little bar area as well as a sitting area in the lobby. The hotel had a very clean exercise room and a game room. Breakfast was a delicious buffet of hot and cold items. The staff was incredibly helpful to us particularly in mapping our route to the riverboat. I would highly recommend this hotel particularly if you are going on a river cruise. If you are not going on a river cruise, I would still highly recommend it for the location, the size of the room, the buffet and the staff. Our room also came with a public transportation card that we actually used going to the markets and the ship the next day. Since I did not use points to book this hotel I made sure that I used the right card for me to pay for it – I used my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card which gives me three times points for travel and staying in a hotel is travel!
Waiting for our room to get ready, we walked around the area and went to an ATM machine to get a few Swiss francs for the Christmas markets we would be visiting that evening. Some vendors, we had been told, would only take francs while others would take euros.
Around 5:30 PM we met a family friend at our hotel and took the tram to one of the Christmas markets. As I mentioned earlier, the tram was across the street from our hotel in a beautiful area in front of “The Gates”. As we got close on the tram, I could see the storefronts and buildings decorated in bright white twinkling lights, displays in their windows that would put New York windows to shame. It was festive, bright and very inviting.
It was exciting to see in person the lighted pyramids, stalls/temporary restaurants with Swiss raclette cheese melted over potatoes or bread with pickled onions and cornichons. Do you ever get the feeling when you are traveling that you are living your dream? I certainly felt that way and everything that I thought I would see, I see. It was like walking in the middle of my technicolor dream. We saw stalls with homemade cookies, gingerbreads, candies, wooden figures, lots of ornaments and cardstock paper stars with a light on a cable in them.
I was officially in heaven and overwhelmed with all we saw. This almost seemed like we were at the county fair with all the great food and some rides for the children.
Adults were standing around tall tables drinking their gluhwein and talking with each other after a day at work nibbling on appetizers. Another market was within a 10 minute walk and we went there as well. This one was in the main square and had a kinder area for little rides for children. Walking around we even saw two animated elk above a food stall. The last time I saw something like this was in Disney World in the Country Bear Jamboree show.
We are glad that we went to this market as this was the location where we would meet our tour guide the next morning. My heart and my eyes, not to mention my stomach were full from all we had done that day. Neither one of us had problems sleeping. We were now excited about our week visiting different Christmas markets and seeing the landscape around the Rhine River Valley.
Since we couldn’t get to our cruise ship before 3 PM, I had arranged a Chocolate Tour in Basel. I needed to find out who had the better chocolate – Switzerland or Belgium. We booked this tour on AirBnB in their Experience tab. I had recently learned about these experiences on AirBnB done by local people. Now who could resist a chocolate tour? Certainly not us. To get to these experiences just log into AirBnB and in the bar for the city type in the city you will be in . The drop down menu will show homes, restaurants and experiences it will show “homes”, “experiences” and “restaurants”. Click on experiences and then begin looking at all that is offered where you are.
We booked a three hour tour with Stephanie and we were excited. We had great online communication with her, we exchanged phone numbers in case we got lost in finding the meeting spot. Since we were at this location the night before for the Christmas market we had no problem walking there. We could have taken the tram but it really was only about a 20 minute walk and it felt refreshing. We walked to five different chocolatiers and had samples everywhere we went. Our first spot, Xocolati, was similar to a Fair Trade chocolate store that made the best hot chocolate. They must have had about 30 choices with many different flavors, some I would have never put together. It was fun with each of us ordering a different drink.
Our next stop was at Confiserie-Schiesser and after looking at the chocolate through the glass at the counter, we went upstairs to what I could call a little tea room for samples. There was one sample that was filled a raspberry liquor which although strong was delicious. This chocolatier was directly across the street from Markplatz which has a farmers market every Saturday and it was in full force the day that we were there with many live Christmas decorations (wreaths, trees, flowers) as well as fruit and vegetables. The city hall was there as well.
Aas we walked from shop to shop we couldn’t help notice how beautifully decorated the shop windows were. More of a traditional view of Santa than anything modern.
The other three were very nice but these were my two favorites. To get to the final shop, we had to take a wooden ferry boat across the Rhine River. As we were on the ferry boat we saw Santas kayaking on the Rhine. This last shop reminded me of a small coffee shop. It was closed but Stephanie had the key and showed us the seed pod that the cacao grows in. We sat and listened to her. Stephanie answered any questions we had about anything. Since it was just the two of us on this tour we were able to get to know Stephanie, and get, what I fell was a personalized tour. At we left Stephanie gave us a goodie bag with different chocolates in it. I would highly recommend this tour. If you are interested in this walking tour eating chocolates with Stephanie and learning all about it, you can contact her at email@example.com.
As we were walking back to the hotel, we even saw a little bar on a “food truck” on the street in Basel.
Finally, to add to my collection of photographs of items hanging above the sidewalks, here is Basel’s version of umbrella hanging over us.
We made it back to the hotel, checked out and with the directions from the front desk, we were able to take the tram to the dock for our ship.
We had been in Basel for about 27 hours and enjoyed every second. It was fun traveling with someone who had no fears or concerns about walking around at night, taking public transportation and had an adventuresome spirit.