Basel Switzerland was the disembarkation point of our 11 day AmaWaterways river cruise. And like many of our travel companions, and because we love Switzerland so much, we booked an extra night in Basel.
We could have spent another week!
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What to do in Basel Switzerland
Basel is widely recognized as the cultural capital of Switzerland based, in part, on the more than 40 museums in the city. We spent the better part of the morning at the Kunstmuseum and enjoyed lunch in the courtyard cafe. Any day you are in the presence of van Gogh, Monet, Gauguin and Rembrandt is a good day.
Of course, we could have spent several days at the Kunst, but it was a beautiful summer day and we wanted to see more of the city in our limited time. We spent an hour or two at the Caricature and Cartoon Museum, then walked to the Basler Münster, otherwise known as the Basel Cathedral. Really, you can’t get tired of cathedrals in Europe.
Check out the Basel City Hall. Is that the most spectacular government building ever?!
It’s 500 years old and has these beautiful frescoes in the courtyard. We arrived just minutes too late for a tour, but we peaked our heads into some of the rooms that were covered in walnut and marble. I’ve got to go back to Basel just to tour the city hall.
We stopped for ice cream and then crossed the Rhine river on these really cool ferries that use the natural current of the river, not motors, to move from bank to bank. It’s a fun tourist thing, but apparently locals use them often to avoid the traffic on the five bridges that cross the Rhine at Basel.
We continued to wander along the banks of the Rhine River on our way back to the hotel, stopping here and there for photos and just to enjoy the beautiful day.
That’s when we saw one of the weirdest things in all of our journeys.
Floating on the Rhine River at Basel
The Rhine River was filled with people floating on what looked like brightly-colored Mylar balloons.
They are called Wickelfisch, a floating waterproof bag made by a local company. I wanted to provide you a link to buy on Amazon, but how crazy is this —Amazon doesn’t carry them. But you can order from the Wickelfisch website.
We watched for the longest time from the Mittlere Brücke—one of five bridges that cross the Rhine at Basel, and one of the oldest bridges along the river. Entirely adults, people clustered together floating down the river, some with an adult beverage in hand, others just chatting.
It wasn’t that much different from floating on inner tubes or noodles in any number of rivers in the U.S., but these bright balloons and this location fascinated both of us. You don’t see this happening in the Mississippi River at St. Louis.
I couldn’t stand it. I had to get closer and talk to people about this whole thing.
Summer Swims on the Rhine River at Basel
So we climbed down to the concrete embankment where people were enjoying the sun, snacks and their Wickelfisch. One woman was packing up her beach towel, hair brush and a few other items in her Wickelfisch, and she let me play with it.
It’s similar to any other dry sack you would use for canoeing or kayaking, but these are more light-weight and come with a strap similar to a life jacket. And it’s shaped like a fish and has a smiley fish painted on the fat part of the bag.
She said that in the summer months, many people commute to or from work via a float in the river. She had just finished her shift at a local clothing store and took a float before taking the train home.
I was so upset that my swimsuit was in our hotel about two miles away and that we didn’t have time to go get it, buy a towel and Wickelfisch before it was too dark to float in the Rhine. And we had a 7 a.m. flight the next day.
The woman I talked to told me that several hotels provide Wickelfisch and beach towels for their guests. I learned that the Krafft Basel, just behind where we were seated, is one hotel that supplies Wickelfisch to their guests. So that’s where we’re staying the next time we’re in Basel.
Ya, ’cause I am so going to do this in my lifetime!