“I can do this,” I tell myself firmly as I squint at the Basel street map. Husband Tom is usually with me on my travels, the map in his hand, while I trail several steps behind, like the Duke of Edinburgh in the wake of her majesty – or in my case, his majesty. But this time I’m traveling tout seul. I gaze around anxiously, searching out a street name; then turn my map upside down. “Got it.”
Leaving the railway station, I follow Elizabethenstrasse into the heart of the city. I shiver and pull my coat closer to me. Basel is bracing itself for winter. The summer sun has thrown a final kiss of warming rays. Autumn has nipped in and he is setting the city’s foliage alight. Gold, russet and burnt-orange is spreading across town like wildfire.
Manuela, long-time Swiss friend, texts me: Stuck @ work. Go 2 the Herbstmesse. It’s gud. x
Me: Where’s that?
Manuela: Petersplatz. Hav fun. x
I pull my map out again, feeling like the beginner on an orienteering course. The Petersplatz Herbstmesse, the Autumn Fair, is in the university area close to the Rhine. My map shows a warren of streets between me and Petersplatz. Would I ever find it?
I continue bravely on, checking my map every couple of minutes. BarfuBerplatz: check. Marktplatz: check. Fischmarkt: double check. My map already has that well-worn look.
Tucked away in cobbled backstreets, street vendors cry, “Heisse Maroni.” You know that winter is well on the way in Swiss cities when the air is filled with the sweet smoky smell of roasting chestnuts.
Husband texts from England: How’s it going?
I reply: No problem. I’ve managed to find the Herbstmesse. U’d b proud of my map-reading! x
Up steep worn steps and I’m there. The market reeks of bratwurst, fried onions and the pungent odor of mature Swiss cheese. No wonder, the Swiss call smelly feet ‘Käsefü?e’. The smell of raclette and unwashed feet isn’t dissimilar. Same bacteria, I’m told.
The square is lined with Heidi huts that are crammed with a kaleidoscope of woollen mitts and hats, glass ornaments, wooden toys and ceramics. Prams and grannies, mothers and toddlers, students, drunks and suited office-workers all jostle for space.