A bit of an anachronism in today's Basel with its modern transport system whisking you through the streets in minutes, but they make for a fitting centuries old throw back for this ancient city. Typically, at least around the old town, where there's a bridge there's a ferry. You can spot the routes from the wires that dangle across the river. The boat launches itself into the fast current, hooked to the wire to prevent it washing downriver towards the North Sea at great speed. The ferry then sidles across the Rhine using only the force of the river water as its power. It looks like a pretty wild ride, but it's very safe.
One-way tickets are 1.60 CHF.
While Euroairport is built completely on French soil, it is, like the Centralbahnhof, jointly operated by Germany and Switzerland as well. It's one of the few airports operated by three nations in the world. The Swiss have their own customs and immigration area on the side closest the border, with its own self-enclosed road.
It's a busy airport serving over five million passengers a year, and is an Easyjet hub. Almost of the air traffic is regional European flights, with a few flights to places like Istanbul, Morocco and even Montreal with Air Transat.
Basel's Centralbahnhof is a trinational station, merging Swiss lines with those of Germany and France. Trains coming in from abroad still arrive at special enclosed platforms separated from Basel by an immigration building, but nobody mans the checkpoints anymore as Switzerland is part of Schengen and has no borders with its neighbours.
Trains run to and through this station from all over Europe: regional trains from Alsace and intercity trains to Paris, trains to Zurich and Italy, trains connecting to Frankfurt and other German hubs. Basel is so connected to the other rail networks that there are even French ticket machines in the main station. I've also heard that the Alsace regional ticket is valid for Basel too, but I could never confirm it. It's definitely valid up until the border at Saint-Louis, which is only a short ride away.
Basel is very much a walking city but it's quite big and there are some uphill stretches leading from the riverside, especially to the train stations, so it's worth considering buying a ride even if you don't need a day ticket. A day ticket costs 9 Swiss Francs, but a short trip ticket, valid for four stops from the first station is probably enough for most people at 2.10 Swiss Francs.
Though not the largest airport in Switzerland, Basel Airport is well connected with most of the larger cities in Europe. Network carriers like Air France, KLM and Lufthansa offer connections to their main hubs. Low-cost travellers like me will be happy to find the heavy easyJet presence (Basel is the main base for sister company easyJet Switzerland) with connections to the UK, Spain, Germany and a hand full of other European countries.
A unique feature of Basel airport is that it serve three countries. The airport is basically located in France, but is divided in the French and the Swiss sectors with different immigration controls. Both German and Swiss borders are around 2 kilometers away from the terminal building. Facilities at the airport exist for more or less all the three countries. That means, that there are three different taxi stands with different taxis you have to pick depending in which country your destination is. The bus to Basel city is paid in Swiss Francs and runs from the Swiss sector of the airport, of course. The vending machine accepts Euro coins as well, but gives you change in Swiss Francs at an unfavourable rate. There is also a bus connecting the French sector with the nearest railway station on the French side which is St. Louis.
Formule 1 Hotel looks closer to the airport than it is, still it is possible to get there by foot and save the taxi transport. It takes around fifteen to twenty minutes, is not recommended with heavy luggage but a good alternative for those travelling on hand luggage or any other low-cost traveller. You just need to know how it works.
First, leave the airport to the left hand side, meaning the French one. Cross the parking lot which is the closest one to the air field. With the air field on the left hand side, you will see another parking lot at the end of the first one which is located slightly uphill. Cross that second parking lot, still having the air field on the left hand side. At the end of the parking lot, you will find a street with some single buildings on the right hand side. Continue on that road which includes a wooden bridge you have to walk on. After the bridge, keep on the right where the road becomes more like a pedestrian way. This way continues into a tunnel, at the end of the tunnel you will see a multi-storey living house on the right hand side. You will see the end of this way at a pedestrian crossing (zebra). After crossing the road here, turn left towards the bridge crossing the motorway. Turn right immediately after using the bridge. At the end of this road, you will find the hotel.
As a point of orientation, the Formule 1 logo is visible from many places along this way, but unfortunately not from everywhere.
A favourite way, by locals and tourists it seems, is to cross on one of the three small boats. They are cable driven and the trip takes just a few minutes, hugely enjoyable and the cost (June 2012) is only CHF 1.60 for adults.
1. The St Alban Ferry
2. European Union flag on the St Alban Ferry
This is one of four passenger ferries that cross the Rhine between "Kleinbasel" (Small Basel) on the right bank and "Grossbasel" (Big Basel or just plain Basel) on the left.
All four of these ferry boats work the same way. The boat has no motor, but hangs on a cable and is driven by the river current only. Depending on the way the ferryman steers the rudder, the ferry moves one way or the other, so it can cross back and forth.
The prices on all the Basel ferries are 1.60 Swiss Franks for adults, 0.80 for children, buggies, bicycles and dogs. (And seagulls, in case you have one with you.)
Since Switzerland is not a member of the European Union (EU), it is a bit of a mystery why there is an EU flag flying on the ferry boat. (Perhaps a political statement?)
GPS 47°33'22.27" North; 7°36'6.88" East
There are a series of four ferries that make up the Faehri-Verein system of Basel. The ferry names are "Wilde Maa" @ St. Alban, "Leu" @ Münster, "Ueli" @ St. Johann and "Vogel Gryff" @ Klingental. These ferries have basically been plying the Rhein for over 150 years, and the technology is a bit unique. The boats require no motor, as they are drawn across the river by a hydraulic pully on a cable + the use of a keel to maintain the direction and orientation of the boat. It all had a pleasant "Huckleberry Finn" feel to it, for me anyway.
The cost for crossing is between 0.80 and 1.60 Swiss Francs, depending on which ferry crossing you're using. The crossing itself takes maybe five minutes and offers a wonderful view of the Rhein's path through the heart of Basel.
For more information from the ferry authority, check the numbers and website below. The mailing address for the authority is:
Fähri Verein Basel
MYNDO tells me that you can actually rent one of the ferries for weddings and such. There is mention of such an option on the company website.
Sunday, March 27, 2011Heaven on Earth: Bike Transport in Switzerland and Austria
By Jody Brooks
On a recent ski trip to Switzerland and Austria, I decided to devote a little time to sampling the bike transport experiences there. I managed to get out for a look in Basel, Switzerland and Innsbruck, Austria.
Having been to Europe before, my expectations were high. Denmark and the Netherlands are not the only European countries that take bicycle transport very seriously. On previous visits, I had seen the dedicated bike lanes in places like Munich, Germany.
However, this time I wasn't going to any large metropolis with miles of dense population. Those typically have major traffic congestion problems. Increasingly, even in the U.S., large city governments support bicycle transport as one of their traffic congestion solutions and there's already a decent amount of adoption.
Are Small Cities Any Less Committed?
Outside of cities can be a different story. With less population density, small cities can be less desperate for alternative transport solutions. Back home at least, this can mean support for bike transport is very limited, merely tolerated, or even hostile. The town of Black Hawk, Colorado is now infamous/famous (depending on your perspective) for banning bikes in that small town.
Since Basel and Innsbruck are relatively small, I was not expecting much more than the limited bike support I've experienced in U.S. small cities. I didn't expect the local governments to be as focused on bike transport. I also thought the time of year might limit the cycling activity I would see.
Nevertheless, what I found far exceeded my high expectations for bike transport in any sized town at any time of year. Basel and Innsbruck transport infrastructures not only tolerate but promote cycling as a serious transport alternative by providing comprehensive bike lanes that are not always but frequently separated from BOTH cars and pedestrians.
They also provide facilities that address common challenges with bike transport. The goal is clearly to make bike transport very practical and often more convenient than driving or even riding the train. What's more, all these facilities and services are put to good use year-round at all hours of the day and night by surprisingly active cyclists.
Serious Bike Parking
The first thing that blew my mind was Basel's bike garages. Under their central train station (Hauptbahnhof SBB), is a veritable wonderland for bike commuting enthusiasts. My local friend took me down there and what I saw was a spotless, well-lighted, well-attended, and massive space for intracity and intercity travelers to safely park their bikes at any hour of the day (not just commuter hours).
These garages are found at most train stations including the airport in Zurich. They also rent bicycles there. I was able to rent a bike there for less than 20 CHF/day. In Zurich, I found a sporting goods store willing to rent for much less: 60 CHF/week.
Especially deluxe were the dedicated entry and exit ramps for bikes. I can't describe how riding in and out of the dedicated ramps to the bike garage instills this bike commuter with a sense of legitimacy. It was truly a profound experience as it contrasts with the overwhelming feeling back home of being a second-class or even illegitimate member of the transport community.
In the U.S., bike parking is sometimes not available at all. It is an ad hoc affair where you bring your own security in the form of pounds of bike locks. Then you might have to walk great distances looking for somewhere to use it. When bike parking is available it is likely to be sparse, outdoor, and unattended.
How often would people drive if they had to carry a lock with them and drape that lock around a filthy rack at every location they visited? That is precisely the question that many European cities have answered for bikes. The result is a comprehensive set of facilities that make cycling very practical, clean, and therefore easy and attractive.
Bike parking in Innsbruck wasn't quite as deluxe as Basel but it was still great. Lots of racks all over. Some were outside and unattended but they were still covered and engineered to ensure one bicycle did not damage another. So refreshing. All this and I wasn't even riding the bike yet.
Serious Bike Infrastructure
Once you are out of the garage or off the rack, the support continues in the form of dedicated bike lanes, bike traffic lights, and even bike service stations. All work together to reinforce the idea that bikes aren't just toys that sometimes sneak onto the road to inconvenience cars. They are serious vehicles.
Serious Bike Services
Along those lines, service stations like this one in Basel were a welcome sign. The more ubiquitous bikes become, the more they need ubiquitous services and resources like the ones that autos enjoy.
Serious Bike Usage
The infrastructure certainly did its part to ensure cycling is serious transport. However, that wouldn't matter if people didn't use it. My expectations were exceeded here as well. Day or night, warm or cold, rain or shine, male or female, young or old, folks were using bikes to go on dates, get groceries, and of course go to work and school.
I was pleasantly surprised to see all ages and genders well represented on bikes late at night in freezing temperatures. Back home, just one of these factors is frequently cited as an excuse for not cycling. Here none are. Couples think nothing of going out to dinner on bikes at night.
The fashionable folks I spied on bikes knocked down two more excuses for not cycling: that it trashes hairdos and clothes. This gal was having none of that. I found her chatting with these two gentleman at about 10 p.m. at night in about 30 degree weather with a handsome ensemble and a sweet looking bike.
Even during a day trip to Colmar, France, I found these two in the train station running errands on their bikes. I didn't see enough of France this trip to comment on their bike transport experience but some of the same commitment to bike transport obviously bleeds over the border from Basel.
Back home, bike transport is increasingly more mainstream but it still is most popular among young people in major metropolitan areas. Here, the range of ages and backgrounds is very wide, as is the penetration beyond big cities.
All this demonstrates that, with the right attitude and right clothing, bike commuters can experience physical and social warmth no matter when they ride.
This trip reinvigorated my resolve to see this level of bike transport infrastructure and adoption in the U.S. It can be done. It will be done, in the U.S. as it is in bike transport heaven: Europe.
Posted by Jody Brooks at 6:37 PM
An excellent idea and value for the Basel visitor is the Mobility Ticket that comes automatically with the stay in a hotel or B&B in the city. It is valid for unlimited travel on any public transportation in the zones 10, 11, 13 of the public tranportation network TNW. This means you can use any train, tram or bus within Basel, to/from the airport, north to Riehen or south to Ettingen during your stay in Basel.
I was amazed you can even ride free upon arrival to your hotel - all you need is the confirmed reservation from the hotel.
Basel's old town is built on hills. Steep hills, that is. You'll definitely notice when dragging your luggage from the tram stop to the hotel. I was more than glad to find the elevator at Petersgasse (thanks to my resident friend) which saved me some sweat. It is located in the courtyard of the police headquarter at Spiegelgasse and takes you up to Petersgasse - an elevation difference of maybe 15 m. Best thing is that it is free and open 24/7 :-)
You're probably better off taking the train or S-Bahn 1 or 3, vs. Tram or bus as it is faster (no stops everywhere) but if you want to take Tram and/or bus:
Tram 14 takes you "downtown" from stop "Bahnhofstrasse" in about 15 to 20 mins
Bus 80 or 83 from stop "Gruessen" in Pratteln about same timeframe
I'm sure they can tell you more at the hotel. Hope that helps a bit
There are four ferries each situated approximately between two bridges that connect to either shore.
Each ferry is attached by a cable to a block ( see picture 2) that rides along another cable spanning the river (Rhine) at approx 20 - 30 m. high. To cross the river, the ferryman orients the boat around 45deg from the current, so that the current pushes the boat across the river.
It is a form of transportation that requies no other outside energy, being hydraulically driven.
Basel airport, also known as Euroairport, lies 9km north-west of the city, within French territory; it is connected to Switzerland by a land corridor. There are exits from the airport baggage hall to both Switzerland and France; make sure you take the Swiss one.
Bus 50 runs between the airport and Basel's main station - Bahnhof SBB - every eight minutes during the day, less frequently in the evening, for a fare of Sfr 3.80; this also covers connecting bus or tram services elsewhere in the city for two hours after you buy the ticket. Duration of ride 20 minutes.
In the city, the flat fare is Sfr3, but many visitors do not need to pay; most journeys (including the one back to the airport) is covered by the Mobility Card, a free public transport pass given to guests in every hotel for the duration of their stay.