Around Basel – looking for old boundary stones on a sunny cold day

It is one of those winter days in January when I am happy to live in Basel, because the sun shines here, while the plateau of Switzerland including Zurich is covered with clouds. It is a sunny, but very, very cold day today. The fields on the Bruderholz are “dressed up” for winter.


I start my winter hike here.


The small nature reserve lakes are frozen and covered with snow that are decorated by animal tracks.


The bench looks inviting, but a little cold.


I approach Therwil and capture the view of the Blauen mountain range and the border with France in the haze (looking west).


I have crossed Therwil and look south across the vineyards of Therwil.


In Therwil, I am on the ground of the former Prince- Bishopric of Basel. Then I approach the border of protestant Biel-Benken that has belonged to the city of Basel. The border between Biel-Benken and Therwil/Oberwil has been carefully marked by boundary stones. This is the first boundary stone I come across – I call it  “corner stone”.


Next to the stone, this panel explains the history.


The border between Therwil/Oberwil and Biel-Benken was a major frontier in history. In the beginning of 16th century, Basel acquired areas from the impoverishing noblemen, one of these areas being Biel-Benken. Also at that time, Basel joined Switzerland and became protestant. The bishop of Basel had to leave “his town”; he moved to Pruntrut and continued to belong to Germany and the German emperor. The possessions of the bishop were called “the Prince-Bishopric of Basel”. The bishop owned Therwil and Oberwil that were located between Biel-Benken and Basel. Biel-Benken – belonging to Basel – was an exclave.  Around 1800 the Prince-Bishopric was dissolved and in 1815, the Congress of Vienna allocated Therwil and Oberwil to Basel (see also André Salvisberg u.a.: “Historischer Atlas der Region Basel”, Christoph Merian Verlag 2010). The once important border separating two countries (Germany and Switzerland) became a border separating just communities.

The (historical) border around Biel-Benken is adorned with boundary stones from the 17th and 18th century marking the frontier between Basel and the Prince-Bishopric of Basel. I look for the stones in the forest above Biel-Benken.


This stone from 1774 has been beautifully restored. It shows the coat of arms of the prince-bishop Simon Nikolaus de Monjoie pointing to the Prince-Bishopric side.


Towards Biel-Benken there is the coat of arms of Basel – as Biel-Benken belonged to Basel.


This boundary stone shows the bishop’s crook and a coq on the side pointing to the Prince-Bishopric. This must be the coat of arms of Christoph Blarer that the panel near the “corner stone” mentions.



I finish my walk at the Friedrich Oser monument above Biel-Benken with the hazy view of the Blauen. I think the citizens of Basel have done a good job acquiring Biel-Benken with the southwards facing slope that produces quite a good wine (I liked it).


The pond near the monument of Oser is covered with ice and the sun plays with the trees.


With many history lessons learned I return home to warm myself up – it WAS cold today, though the sun had made my heart jump.

I think I will return to Biel-Benken to search for more boundary stones, but perhaps I will wait for warmer weather…

In Catalonia – enyoing the mild late autumn days in Hospitalet de l’Infant

On October 28th 2016 we arrive in Hospitalet de l’Infant and settle in the small apartment of our friends. We enjoy the balcony – the weather is still warm enough for that.


The late autumn days here are mild (around 20 degrees and more) and some people (most of them retired) populate the beach.


However, the small bars have been dismounted and the slide-boats are now hidden in this backyard waiting for the next summer.


The offerings of the Sunday market have changed: Now we can buy warm sweaters and socks – in summer it was bathing suits and light blouses.


The late afternoon sun produces long shades on the beach.


The waves play gently with the sand.


The clouds remind me of our southwind clouds from the Alps, called “Föhn”. Actually it is a similar phenomena: The wind comes from the north west descending from the mountains behind our coast line and clearing up the sky.


In the morning, Ursula captures the rising sun above the Mediterranean Sea.


Later during our stay, the north west wind is blowing heftily, and I prefer to do my swimming in the large public swimming pool that is open until ten at night. Hospitalet seems to be a wealthy small town: They provide these piscines municipals with attached fitness center and in addition a public library, where we as “simple” tourists can rent out books for free.


In 1306 the Infant Peter of Arragon and Anjou built the hospital of Hospitalet near the pass of Balaguer where the Via Augusta crosses the hills towards Tortosa and the Ebro valley.


The hospital was in use for several centuries. It was destroyed several times, the final and last time by a storm in 1910. One highlight was the visit of Elizabeth Fox, a noble lady from England, that stayed here overnight around 1800. The museum tells her story with much humor.


The shops are open – bakeries have fresh bread, Jordi offers fresh fish from l’Amettla, the grocery shop has delicious fruit and vegetables, the Chinese shop has all we need to complete our small household, the electrician shop repairs our broken vacuum cleaner in two days (and how proud the electrician is of that!), the mercer has everything you may need for sewing, the arts shop frames our pictures and fotos (to decorate our small apartment), the sports shop sells bathing suits… and this shop sells “Fisch Fang Wurmer” or worms for fishing (it is open on weekdays – I am just not sure, how happy the worms will be when used to fang fish).


We have all we need for our two weeks’ vacation – and while enjoying that, we also undertake many excursions into the surroundings of Hospitalet de l’Infant. There is so much to discover in Catalonia.

On the way to Spain – second stop in charming Collioure

We are on our way to Spain again in October 2016. We first stopped in Le Puy en Velay, the gorgeous pilgrim town perched on basalt needles. We stopped a second time in charming Collioure near the French border with Spain, in the Languedoc-Roussillon.

We drive south through the hills of the Auvergne – huge bridges swing over the valleys – always a great scenery. Then the highway winds down. Cypresses and pine trees are welcoming us. The rain has stopped, the sun shines. The temperatures are warmer and my jeans are too hot. We arrive in the Mediterranean climate.


Our hotel of charm, Casa Païral, tucked away in a tiny dead street

In Collioure we now have selected a hotel of charm and “Relais de Silence”, the Casa Païral. Indeed, after several turns we find it tucked away in the tiny dead end street Rue du Pasteur. I enter with our car and stop in front of the gate. After having unloaded our luggage, I have to leave this narrow dead end street backwards – I had beads of perspiration on my forehead.


The hotel is quite a contrast to the sober IBIS hotel from last night. We immediately feel at home.



Charming Collioure at night

It is already late. We stroll along the harbour. The fortified church “Eglise Notre Dames des Anges” has been built by Vauban in the 17th century, when he planned to change Collioure into a garnison town (as this region has become part of the French empire in the 17th century). The clock tower looks like a light house.


There are quite a few restaurants at this central square. We have fish at Casa Leon. We love sea fish, when we are close to the sea.



Collioure inspired the fauvism artists in 1905

On an early morning walk we follow the tracks of Henri Matisse and André Derain. They came to Collioure in 1905 to paint fauvism art.


Fauvism art gives priority to the color that creates the visual impression of the painting.


We gather some memories in the narrow streets of Collioure. Colorfully painted houses,…


… flowers all over,…


… and a great view of the Mediterranean Sea with the small chapel on the small island St. Vicent.


Once again we look back to the harbour that the waves play with.



Farther south to Spain

We say good-bye to Collioure and drive south following the sinuous street along the Côte de Vermeille.


We enter Spain, follow the coast for some more time and then turn towards Barcelona and Hospitalet del’Infant.


On the road to Spain – first stop in gorgeous Le Puy en Velay in France

It is end of October 2016. With Ursula I load my car once more and we head off to Spain, with stop overs in France: First stop in Le Puy en Velay in the Haute-Loire and second stop in Collioure near the border with Spain.

Let me start with Le Puy en Velay. To stop here was Ursula’s idea. She promised a pilgrimage town perched on three basalt needles and a Unesco World Heritage. I am curious and agree.


Our hotel IBIS in Le Puy en Velay – very functional and easy to find 

The weather is rainy and chilly. We do not feel like searching for a hotel and take the IBIS hotel that comes up on our side of the main street, just where the old city centre starts. IBIS is a sober and practical French invention. We park our car in a locked garage and then move into a small room with two excellent beds (recently renovated). In the morning, we find a self service breakfast “fridge” with a self service Zumex machine that produces fresh orange juice. The coffee machine makes excellent coffee. All very convenient.


Discovering Le Puy en Velay – evening walk to the old town with the cathedral overlooking it

In the dizzling rain we slender through the charming old town.


The houses are partially made from basalt stones. The cat is a perfect match.


Le Puy en Velay is famous for its green lentils, black sheep (agneau noir du Velay), Verveine liqueur and lace making (dentelles de Puy).


To reach the main gate of the Cathedral Notre Dame du Puy en Velay, pilgrims have to walk up this cobbled narrow street.


The gate receives the pilgrims like the womb of a mother. From here they look back to the town and the surrounding hills.


The cathedral is Romanesque from the 11/12th century. The main nave is topped with three octogonal cupolas, supported by additional arches.


The Black Madonna sits in the choir. She is venerated here. The black head in the middle of her coat is Jesus looking out.


When Annunciation falls on Good Friday, the Jubilee of Le Puy en Velay is celebrated. Last time in 2016, next time in 2157.

St. James welcomes the pilgrims. His hat is adorned with a conch.


We round off the evening with green lentils from Le Puy en Velay. I try a glass of the famous Verveine liqueur of Le Puy en Velay – it tastes a bit like medicine to me.


Morning excursion to the famous cloister of the Cathedral Notre Dame du Puy en Velay

The next morning we visit the famous cloister of the Cathedral.


The columns are decorated with beautiful capitals. I particularly like the pigeons.


In the chapel of the cloister we find this representation of the crucification from 1200.


Then we look back and say good-bye to Le Puy en Velay.


We now drive south to Collioure in the Languedoc-Roussillon near the border of France with Spain.




In Kraków – back again for a short visit and a Fondue with friends / II

At the start of December (2016), I was back in Kraków for a short visit. After my Friday sightseeing and Sushi with Radek, I now spend Saturday with some more sightseeing, some shopping and the Fondue evening with friends.


Visiting the Muzeum Narodowe with an exhibition of Rodin and Dunikowski

I enter the National Museum in the Szołayski House to learn more about Wispiansky, the multitalent of Kraków in the beginning of the twentieth century. I am told that the exhibition is closed for renovation. Instead I see the juxtaposing of sculptures from Rodin and Dunikowski. The exhibition is called “visions of women”. I learn that Dunikowski admired Rodin, that he is one of the most renowned Polish artists of the 20th century and that he has survived Auschwitz. I like his powerful sculptures.


The Szołayski House with its decorated walls is worth a visit in itself.



Shopping at Tatuum

Tatuum is a small shop on the Rynek. I see a warm padded coat in blue color in the window, enter and leave the shop again with the padded coat, three sweaters, a pair of trousers and a knitted dress. I love to go shopping in Krakow – and it is less expensive than in Switzerland.


Young choirs singing in the Peter and Paul Church

The Peter and Paul Church has always surprised me. Today I observe a group of girls singing and entering the church through the backdoor. Something must go on inside. I enter. The church is full. Entry is free. And one choir after the next is singing. It is the Advent and Christmas Choir Festival that lasts from December 2nd to 24th.


I stay for a while and listen to the beautiful young voices.


Taco: Mexican dishes prepared and served by Poles

Just next door to my hotel Wawel we have a late lunch in the Taco that serves Mexican food. I order an Aztec Soup (they call it “Taco soup” here) and a home made drink made from elder. Though the personnel is entirely Polish, my soup is pretty authentic and tasty.


Dry wine needed – Wina Szlachetne

For the Fondue tonight, we need some more dry wine. The shop of Maryla Piskorska, Wina Szlachetne  or “Noble Wines” is always a great place for buying wine. We are in the “rue de la soif” (street of thirst), as the plate says.


For our Fondue, we select a dry Sylvaner from Rheinhessen. Maryla Piskorska has started to offer wine from the Georgian republic made in amphores. I am curious about this wine, but I cannot take it from here in my hand luggage.


The fondue evening – always a challenge and a great pleasure

At Dominik’s place I take a large saucepan to prepare the fondue (for lack of a caquelon). When my fondue is ready, Radek refuses to come, because he is playing football with the son of the house. I insist that the fondue has to be eaten immediately – everyone to the table, please. We dip our bread cubes. The stove we use to keep the fondue warm is designed for chocolate fondue and is to weak for cheese fondue. I have to heat up our cheese fondue several times, as it started to disintegrate. We had a great time, thank you Dominik for inviting us to your home. Back in Basel I bought a good cheese fondue stove that I will take with me in 2017 to ease fondue cooking and eating in Kraków.


It is a sunny Sunday – and I say good-bye to Kraków

After having met some more friends on Sunday morning, I quickly visit the Rynek (market square) to say good-bye. The sky is deeply blue today and contrasts with the red bricks of St. Mary’s Church.


With EasyJet the flight home to Basel takes something more than an hour. And already for dinner I find myself at the table of my neighbors enjoying a delicious Risotto.