I am visiting the city of Basel, Switzerland this weekend. Joseph and I arrived early Saturday morning after an 8+ hour flight out of Atlanta the prior evening. The flight was uneventful — which is always good. After my in-flight meal was served and cleared, I settled into slumber, awaking only when the wheels of the plane touched the ground in Zurich.
From Zurich, we were driven to our hotel in Basel – just over one hour’s drive. We are here on business and will be conducting Generative Interviews on Monday for one of our clients.
I was settled into my room by about 10 AM. As I travel often to Europe, I have gotten into the habit of sleeping the duration of the flight and upon landing the next morning, staying awake until 10 PM the day of arrival. It helps with the jet lag. Yet if I don’t keep active, I find it’s more challenging to stay awake; so as I do on all of my intercontinental travels, as soon as I get checked into the hotel, I go to my room; unpack; freshen up; and then get outdoors as soon as possible.
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I obtained a city map from the concierge and headed towards the center of town. I have never been to Basel. I have never even been to Switzerland prior to this trip.
As I walked block after block, there was one thing that I noticed at once. There are no signal lights at any of the crosswalks. It’s probably because of this that I find that the drivers here are extremely gracious towards pedestrians. Watch out for the trains though!
I also immediately observed that some of the more significant buildings in Basel are painted red as in the picture above.
As I continued to walk along, I became aware of how quiet this city is – at least as compared to some other cities I have visited. Many people were out and about. Many fathers were walking with their children. I saw various tourists taking pictures; people riding bikes; a bake sale where children were decorating cupcakes; and many people with shopping bags perhaps out to purchase the day’s groceries. While these activities are things I see every day on many trips in many countries, what I really sensed as I ambled through cobblestone streets is how foreign everything began to feel.
I pondered this as I sat on a bench in a local park. And what occurred to me about what is so different here is that very few people speak English. I must have walked past 100s of people on my way to the city square; not once did I hear a conversation in English never mind one word with which I was familiar. And as I further realized this, I all of a sudden felt very alone — like I was in a strange land where nothing made sense.
I got up from the bench and strolled for several blocks when I heard music – what sounded like a cello. I decided to walk towards the sound of the music and as I did, I saw something glimmer in the sunlight. This intrigued me.
As I walked closer, I discovered a man in a striped shirt with two large sticks in his hands. I then realized what I saw glimmering from afar – enormous bubbles! Hundreds of them!
I moved closer and watched for a while as this man made varying sized bubbles from the two large sticks he was holding. As you can imagine, children were running to pop the bubbles, smiling and laughing as were the adults who watched while others walked by making comments, pointing to the display of colorful spheres floating in the air.
I decided to capture the experience on video, recording the event via my iPhone. And as I did so, things didn’t feel so “foreign” anymore.
Granted, I still could not understand the words people were speaking. But what I could connect with was a shared experience of smiles and laughter.