Thursday, August 29, 2013

World's Longest International Tram Ride, Basel, Switzerland

A while back a Swiss news website ran a story about Basel's number 10 tram. Traversing two countries (Switzerland, France) and three Swiss cantons (cantons are similar to states in the USA), the number 10 tram stretches over 25.9 kilometers (more than 15 miles)--making it the longest international tram ride in the world. The story mentioned the tram leaving the city and passing through lush countryside along with skirting past multiple castles. Whoa, skirting past multiple castles! that sure got my attention. My bicycle and I had a talk and decided it would be fun to follow along the tram's route.
 This is the number 10 tram heading out from Basel's central train station.
Only a few miles out of Basel and we are in Binningen (population 14,000), birthplace of tennis pro Roger Federer and home to Binningen Castle. Built in the 13th century, the castle is now a hotel and the grounds a public park.
 A couple miles down the road from Binningen and I'm in Bottmingen (population 6,000). A block from the tram line stands Bottmingen Castle. What makes this 13th century castle unusual is the moat surrounding it---very few castles in Switzerland have moats.
 The castle is now a restaurant.

 This is the backside of Bottmingen Castle.
The tram leaves Switzerland and passes through the French village of Leymen. The tiny village has a boulangerie/pastry shop and of course it gets checked out. I like the holder of the sign but, the pastries are awful.
Past the cornfields of Leymen and way up on the ridge stands the ruins of Chateau de Landskron or Landskron Castle. It has been there since 1297. Over the years it has been a fortress and state prison for political prisoners and for the mentally ill. In the 1970's the former owners installed a colony of monkeys into the ruins.  Now, a preservation group owns it. I love castles but, I'm not cycling all the way up there just to see ruins.
 I do however, make a couple steep climbs to pass through several valleys.
This is in Laufen (population 5,000). The Birs river runs through the town. Why is Laufen famous? It's home to Ricola, the cough drop and breath mints company.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Basel, Switzerland

I've been to Basel (population 170,000) numerous times and it ranks as one of my favorite cities in Europe.  
Basel's city hall, more than 500 years old, is a real stunner. It was hard to get a close-up shot due to a festival being set-up in the market square in front.
 The painted walls inside city hall's courtyard are absolutely beautiful.
This is the market square outside city hall being set-up for a festival. Of course I'm several hours too early to snag a sausage and beer.
The Rhine river flows through the middle of the city. Basel is Switzerland's only cargo port. This navigable part of the Rhine allows goods to be shipped all the way to Rotterdam (The Netherlands).
 Photo taken from one of the bridges crossing the Rhine.
Can you see people floating down the river between the orange buoys and the canoe-like boats on the right? Very popular thing to do in the summer.
Basel is a business powerhouse. It is home to more than a dozen companies--each having over $1 billion in revenues. Name another city in the world with a population of only 170,000 that can make this claim. Most of those buildings you see in this picture belong to Novartis, a pharmaceutical company with more than $57 billion in revenues.
No, those aren't real lily pads in the fountain. Speaking of art, here's a piece of trivia: the Kunstmuseum Basel (Museum of Fine Arts) established in 1661, is the world's oldest art collection accessible to the public.
Open air cinemas in the summer are very popular in Europe. This one is set-up in the big square outside Basel's biggest church in the old town area.
I don't like the idea of going to see a movie outdoors and the idiot in front of me or next to me is allowed to smoke!
Ornate fountains dot the old town area and also spew out ice cold drinking water.
Soldier watching over the fountain.
This dog watches people passing by.
Look closely above and behind the dog and there's a frog-which spits out water from the rain gutters. 
View from plaza area to part of old town.
Very fancy water fountain in city center.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Cite de I'Automobile Mulhouse, France

Besides being home to the world's largest railway museum, Mulhouse, France (population 110,000) also claims bragging rights to the world's largest automobile museum--Cite de l'Automobile. Located near the edge of town, the origins of the collection is a fascinating story.
I'll give you a brief background. Brothers Hans and Fritz Schlumpf were Swiss citizens born in Italy but when their mother was widowed she moved the family to Mulhouse, France. In 1935 the brothers founded a company which produced spun woolen products. After World War II their business took off, multiple factories opened and they became very wealthy. In the 1950's they started collecting cars--with Bugatti cars being the main focus (it might have something to do with the Bugatti factory being a mere 50 miles up the road). The brother's car collecting became obsessive and soon a wing of this 200,000 square foot factory was chosen to restore and house the collection. The 40 carpenters, mechanics and others working on the cars had to sign confidentiality agreements to keep secret their work and scale of the collection. By 1976 textile manufacturing was moving to Asia and the brothers started selling factories. In 1977 laid-off workers staged a sit-in strike at Schlumpf's offices and broke into the Mulhouse "factory" to find this incredible collection of more than 600 cars. The brothers fled to Switzerland. The Schlumpf brother's debt rose and to save the collection from destruction, break-up or being exported, the contents were classified in 1978 as a French Historic Monument. Now, the museum is owned by the French government and is listed as a National Heritage site. The photo pictured above and below shows the museum entrance.

The museum is huge. Notice the street light lining the long walkways.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Cite du Train (Train City) Mulhouse, France

Cycling to the outskirts of Mulhouse (population 110,000) brings me to Cite du Train, the largest railway museum in the world. Cite du Train (Train City in English) is the successor to the French National Railway Museum. 
 The entrance to the museum.
 Jeez, steel behemoths are everywhere.
 This massive train has a snow blower on the front.
 This steam-powered train from 1844 is one of the oldest.
 Steam-powered train from 1852
 This blue carriage from the 1800's carried first class passengers in opulent style.
You have first class, second class and in the 1800's--this was third class accommodations.

Evidently you can book private dinners in the museum as this elaborate set-up between train platforms shows.

The upper deck of this carriage is for third class passengers.
This is one of my favorites. In the 1930's Bugatti branched out from manufacturing automobiles to building railcars. In the next photo you can see the engine was mounted in the middle of the car.
Look above the open door where the engine is located and you can see a glass bubble---where the engineer sat.
Car maker Renault also go into the train business. This one from 1933.
This former workhorse is parked outside.