Thursday, September 16, 2004

Geneva, Switzerland—Basel, Switzerland—Olten, Switzerland—Day 229

I woke up this morning with the Matterhorn in mind. I packed up my bags and checked out of the hotel, got a taxi to the train station (at the taxi stand where they were supposed to be the other day) and was soon on a train to Lausanne, where I was to connect to Zermatt (where the Matterhorn is!).

Well, I thought it would be that easy. I got to Lausanne and discovered that trains connect in Brig, not Lausanne, so I would have to get a train to Brig and then on to Zermatt. On top of this, the train that I needed left like 10 minutes before I showed up. The next one wasn’t for two more hours. My timing has not been good these past few days.

So cutting my losses, I decided that I would make it up to Basel where there is a zoo that I am going to. I found a train going to Olten (where I am staying—about 20 minutes south on the train from Basel) and headed towards Olten.

We arrived about an hour later in some place (I can’t remember now for the life of me) where this very smart train that I was on (one of these trains that talks to you at each stop in several different languages) told me that in order to connect to Basel, I should get off and get on the adjacent train.

I pondered this idea for a bit and decided it was a good idea. I would store my things in a luggage compartment in Basel at the train station, go to the zoo, come back, get my stuff and then go to Olten.

This plan worked—I found the luggage storage compartments, watched a man store his luggage and then followed his lead about paying and shutting the door, and was soon off to the zoo. After going outside and trying to make sense of the complex tram system Basel has, I decided to seek help. I went in and found the information desk and tourist office. The woman working there told me that I could find the Basel zoo if I just started walking out to the left for nine minutes.

Nine minutes! Ok! Thinking this time frame was funny, I set my stop watch and started walking to the left. At one point during these nine minutes the road veered to the left of the left, but I kept going on the main left street instead of veering. I soon saw signs for the zoo, headed down the stairs, passed a power plant, and was at the zoo.

I made it in under nine minutes. I wonder if I should have told the woman that it didn’t take me that long.

I bought my ticket and headed into the zoo, finding the hippos with no problem. There were three of them—again, the goldilocks combination of big, medium and small. The small hippo was lying on the beach area of their enclosure trying to sleep while the other two spent a good deal of time grunting and moving about their enclosure. I took pictures but it was so hard to see them through the tall grasses that hadn’t been cut in a while (or that were there for effect) and so there were just a few spots that I could stand in to get a good picture. And with the hippos moving in every direction, I had to keep following them.

After a while, I decided to find out their names and wandered into the hippo’s indoor enclosure where not only did I find a keeper who I asked, but found their names posted on the wall, along with the zebra’s names. What luck! I jotted them down and went out to find Asita (the baby), Helvetia (the middle one) and Wilhelm der Grosse (the big one). What a proud name to have! WILHELM DER GROSSE! I have no idea what it means (William something I am sure) but I thought now THAT is a name for a hippo.

Eventually the hippos moved in my favor and I was able to get some great pictures of them—that is while I pushed through the crowds as well as another eager photographer who had firmly planted himself in MY spot. I couldn’t believe it—he stood there almost as long as I did, stealing some of the good moments I didn’t despair, and just when he got impatient waiting, I took over and lo and behold, got some great shots of them.

I went in search of an ice cream throughout this (a critical necessity really) and found the gift shop after I was through taking pictures—and before the zoo closed! I walked out of the zoo, back up over the pedestrian crossing, past the power plant and back to the train station (I didn’t time myself this time). I then decided that I would see where the central part of Basel was so I bought a ticket for the “Marktplatz” and hopped on a tram. It dropped me off down in the “Marktplatz” and I walked around a bit, then walked up back towards the train station. After I had enough, I got back on a tram back to the train station, collected my things from the locker and got on the next train to Olten.

The train conductor came by to check my tickets (I have a Eurorail pass which has been quite handy since I am on a train everyday and thus don’t have to buy point-to-point tickets) and he was wondering where I was going. I told him Olten and when we finally approached he came through the car shouting “Next stop, Olten!” as if I didn’t know. I got the point, and got off.

I got a taxi to the hotel—big mistake, my hotel was like just up the road. Ten Euros later—and like 100 feet—I was at the hotel. I checked in, unloaded my bags and went in search of something to eat. I was surprised at the number of food options in Olten—mostly Chinese and Italian where I was walking, but nonetheless there were a few places open. I chose an Italian restaurant and walked in, obviously the only person that wasn’t a regular.

I sat down, ordered my food in German (well, ok, it WAS Italian food—but I understood what she was saying to me in German!) and read my book (the one that I am still annoyed with) while I waited for my food. The food was good and I was soon full and on my way back to the hotel, which I found with no problem in the dark, although I was a little nervous walking around trying not to get lost.

Tomorrow its off to the Matterhorn. Once and for all.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.