Travel to Basel, Switzerland – Episode 506 Transcript

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transcript of Travel to Basel, Switzerland – Episode 506

Travel to Basel Switzerland - What to Do, See and Eat

Chris: Amateur Traveler, episode 506. Today the Amateur Traveler talks about The Ryan River and museums, a torch-light parade, and melted cheese as we go to Basel, Switzerland.

Chris: Today’s episode is brought to you by Select Italy. Select Italy designs custom itineraries and books a whole range of products and services, including fascinating tours, romantic weddings, or honeymoon trips, along with ticketing services for museums and musical events in Italy. Visit selectitaly.com to learn more.

This episode of Amateur Traveler is sponsored by Rover.com, the nation’s largest network of neighborhood pet sitters and dog walkers. Go to Rover.com/travel and get $20 off your dog’s first booking.

Welcome to the Amateur Traveler. I am your host Chris Christensen. We’ll be hearing more from our sponsors in a minute. But first, let’s talk about Basel and Switzerland. I’d like to welcome on the show Claudia McCoy from Saint Louis who’s come to talk to us about Basel, Switzerland. Claudia, welcome to the show.

Claudia: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Chris: Claudia, what is your relationship with Basel, Switzerland that we are talking to you about Basel?

Claudia: Basel is my hometown. I lived there all my life until I moved here, to Saint Louis, 20 years ago.

Chris: That really doesn’t count as your life if you have the 20 year here.

Claudia: Yeah.

Chris: Excellent. And first of all, let’s put Basel on the map. I am not sure everybody knows their Swiss geography here. Where is Basel?

Claudia: It is in the very north of Switzerland, bordering right to Germany and France.

Chris: The very north and the very west.

Claudia: Correct, yeah. Northwest.

Chris: Excellent. And why should somebody go to Basel?

Claudia: Basel is now…it’s really becoming a world city. It has…probably famous over here for us is Art Basel, Art Miami. They are in conjunction.

Chris: Okay. I have not heard of this.

Claudia: Yeah, it is a huge art exhibition now. Then we have the jewelry and watch industry, of course, that’s also really big in Basel. It’s just really becoming this world city that features a lot of great restaurants. And then, of course, in February, March has the Swiss carnival. I think that is really becoming world famous.

Chris: Excellent. And you talk about the watches. Of course people know Switzerland for watches. I want to say that some of that, and stop me if I am wrong…if I am getting my history wrong here. That some of that started by French Huguenots who came to Switzerland to free persecution, and then brought with them the watch trade.

Claudia: Initially, yes.

Chris: And when we talk about this being in Switzerland, which language is prevalent in Basel?

Claudia: German.

Chris: Okay. And that is a little bit surprising to me just because of the geography. We are really, really close to France there, but it is one of the German speaking towns.

Claudia: Yeah, it’s interesting. It is very German speaking, but because it’s so close to the border you have a lot of German and French people coming to work in Basel on a daily basis. It is a little…a little mixed pot.

Chris: Okay. And what kind of itinerary would you recommend for someone going to Basel? What should we see first?

Claudia: First, I think I would definitely just walk the old city. It has a beautiful red town hall with a gorgeous golden roof. That’s definitely worth seeing. A little bit shopping, but every time I go I just want to go up and down the city. It’s just gorgeous. It’s right on the Rhine River so you can take little cruises across. The Rhine really goes through the city. So you can walk multiple bridges to get over it. It’s stunning.

Chris: When you say it is right on the Rhine River, it is the last navigable spot on the Rhine, if I am not mistaken. So, I did Rhine River cruise for instance, and we started from Basel and cruised all the way to Amsterdam. But I don’t think you can get much further up than Basel.

Claudia: That is correct. Yeah.

Chris: Because there are waterfalls.

Claudia: Yeah, the waterfalls are coming afterwards, yeah.

Chris: Just outside of town?

Claudia: A little bit further down. Yeah. And then you can go to the outskirts as well. I love the city, but then on the outside they have…it gets hilly, so you can do nice little heights. You can go and see churches. We have great museums. So there’s lots to do.

Chris: Okay. Well, let’s dig into some of those in a little bit more detail. So you mentioned the old town that we want to see, the City Hall. Is that a tour we want to do or self-guided, or is there anything else we want to do when we are in City Hall?

Claudia: I am pretty sure there is a tour. I would have to double check to see if it comes in English. But I’m pretty sure it is in Germany for sure, that I know. City Hall tour for sure. There are walking tours that you can take in the city.

Chris: Have you been on any of the walking tours in the city that you would recommend?

Claudia: I have been many, many years ago. Those European towns, they have all of these tiny little alleys where you want to go and explore? And that is really why I wanted to do it. I just wanted to know this city a little bit better and see all these hidden alleys, so to speak. Yeah. And stories with them.

Chris: The other funny thing about that is we found when we were in Vienna last summer that when you are doing…we were doing a self-guided walking through all the little alleys, and it also meant that we were avoiding all the crowds.

Claudia: Yeah, exactly.

Chris: Because we were off the main drags, and other people didn’t know about that. So even in the height of the tour season, those can be nice thing to do.

Claudia: I am sure, yeah, I am sure.

Chris: Excellent. Are there any other historic sights that we want to see while we’re downtown?

Claudia: It is called The Spalentor, and it’s really…Basel have at least three of the original city gates. And it is a little bit of a hill, but the hill is completely build up. There are stores, restaurants, and everything. So, it is nice little walk to get up there and see the original city gate from medieval times.

Chris: I don’t think you should apologize for there being a hill in Switzerland. I have personally…

Claudia: Well, it is not flat.

Chris: I believe that people should expect if they are going to Switzerland, they are going to be doing some walking and it’s going to be uphill, both ways.

Claudia: Exactly. It’s not flat. Yeah. Back to the art museum, there is going to be new one opening this spring, but they also have the museum from Jean Tinguely, which was this very famous sculptor/painter. And it’s interactive museum. It is a fun museum to go to, especially for children too.

Chris: You say interactive, I am assuming we are not sculpting.

Claudia: No, no, no. But he has these sculptures that are moving…

Chris: More modern-kinetic sculptures.

Claudia: Yeah. That kind of stuff.

Chris: Okay. I was picturing Rhoden, so I had the wrong mental image here. Excellent. And then you mentioned other museums. What other museums would you recommend while we are in museum mode?

Claudia: There is a doll house museum. It is interesting. At first I thought, “I don’t know.” But we went a couple of years ago and it is really actually interesting to see the story, or the history I guess, from, I think it was Victorian times, when they started collecting these things.

Chris: Okay. That makes sense. I can think of the Victorian Albert Museum in London has quite a doll house collection. Is there a specific Basel connection for dollhouses?

Claudia: No, no.

Chris: Okay. All right. So somebody started collecting doll houses in London. Okay.

Claudia: Yeah. And it just grew and grew, and grew. And then of course, we have Historical Museum and things like that. But I would definitely say the Art Museum and the Tinguely Museum are probably the two top ones.

Chris: Excellent. And then, anything else we want to do in the old town while we are down there?

Claudia: There’s gorgeous gothic cathedral right on the right. You will get to it when you walk around that town. It is not that big. But that’s definitely great look up point.

Chris: Excellent. And then as we work our way into the new town? Are there things you want to suggest?

Claudia: New town is a little bit more modern, but more business, more hotels, things like that. So nothing really…I wouldn’t recommend going there.

Chris: All right. Let’s talk about places to eat then, because we have seen enough museums at this point and we have done the walking tour, and we are hungry. What are we going to eat and where are we going to go for it?

Claudia: Lots of different restaurants here. You can go your traditional fair, Swiss cuisine, which is more German-oriented, so a lot of meats, potatoes, noodles. But then, we also love our Italian cuisine. We are big on pastas and pizzas. We do have a restaurant which I love and it is called Lillie’s, and it’s Asian fair, I am going to say. It has really great community tables. You just sit somewhere, and you get your food, and you just have this sense of thing like a little community and you don’t know anybody, and you make friends really easily. It is a great place.

Chris: Okay. Let’s take a break here and hear from our sponsor who is Select Italy. Select Italy is the ultimate source for travel to Italy and offers a wide range of superior Italian travel products and services, including customized itineraries, state of the art tours and packages, wedding and honeymoon trips, unique culinary classes, a complete pre-departure ticketing service for museums and musical events, private guided tours, yacht charters, transportation, hotel reservations, villa booking, and more. Through a vast network of suppliers and cultural contacts, anything and everything you need for an optimum travel to Italy is possible with Select Italy.

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Most of the food that I think as Swiss food, of course, is melted cheese. And most of it is traditionally actually winter food.

Claudia: It is, it is.

Chris: Even though silly tourists eat it all time a year.

Claudia: Yeah, and even when I go over there in the summer, then they always think, “Yeah, goodbye meal, so to speak. We’ll have to have fondue or Raclette, or something like that,” And it is 30 degrees outside, Celsius.

Chris: Raclette, I am not sure everybody knows what that is. You want to describe a Raclette for us?

Claudia: Raclette is also melted cheese, but you have slices of cheese and you grill it on this tabletop grill in front of you. And you can also grill meats on the top or anything else, vegetables, that you can think of. You put that on the grill top, and then the cheese slides on the meat of this grill. And you just put everything over potatoes and it is just fabulous.

Chris: Well, I’ve also seen it where you just take the big wheel of cheese, you put it up against the heat, and you scrape out the melted cheese. And then you get a plate of melted cheese and maybe some pickles and onions. Just very pure cheese-lover food here.

Claudia: Yeah, absolutely. We love our cheese.

Chris: I can completely relate to that. One of the things in the pitch was that there are some particularly good festivals and particularly good times of the year to come to Basel. Let’s start with times of year. What types of season would you recommend for Basel?

Claudia: Of course summer is great, because there are all types of outdoors activities. And I think now in July to have, I think it is the fifth time in a row I want to say now, that they have the Basel Tattoo. So it is really like the Edinburgh Tattoo where all these different bands come in. So, that is really fantastic to see.

Chris: Now, the Edinburgh Tattoo is more like military tradition. This sounds more like a music festival.

Claudia: No, it really is military.

Chris: Is it? Okay.

Claudia: Yeah, they bring all these different bands from all over the world and yeah, it is great.

Chris: So more drum and bugle core sounds or…

Claudia: Yeah, drum and pipes.

Chris: Interesting. And when is that?

Claudia: I want to say it’s July. Yeah, it is fantastic. There is a Swiss group called The Top Secret Drum Core.

Chris: Should you be telling us about this?

Claudia: Yeah, well, they are actually right now over New Zealand. So they do all these tattoos all over the world. It is great.

Chris: Interesting.

Claudia: Yeah, that is really fun to see. Fall is a good time because it is a great weather and it is not as hot. But then you get into the winter month, which you can’t do really any skiing outside of Basel. But of course, February, early March is when this great festival happens and that is definitely worth going to see.

Chris: And tell us more.

Claudia: This festival, it’s called The Three Most Beautiful Days of Basel. Basel’s history is more protestant-based. It starts every Monday after Ash Wednesday and it starts Sunday night with a fire parade outside of Basel, on the outskirts of Basel.

Chris: And Fire Parade, we are doing torch-light parade?

Claudia: Yeah. They built brooms, they look like brooms, out of pine wood, because I guess that is the best wood to last the longest when it is on fire. I am going to say there are probably hundreds of these brooms and they carry them through the little town in a procession.

Chris: There’s got to be a history here. Why are we carrying lit brooms through the town?

Claudia: They’re crazy. No. I think it goes back to they want to get rid of winter and they wanted to try to scare off winter. Melting away winter, so to speak and bringing spring.

Chris: And you say it’s not three days in a row, but it’s three Mondays in a row?

Claudia: No, no. It is three days in row.

Chris: Three days in a row. But the first Monday after Ash Wednesday, so it is actually in Lent?

Claudia: Correct. Yep. So, they start that off with that fire parade. And then, Monday morning at 4 o’clock is the official beginning in Basel itself. And it is an incredible feeling, because you are in this big city with thousands of people and you have all the carnival deeds, people that are participating in the carnival. They are dressed up to have costumes on, they have masks on, and mostly play the pipes and drums. And on their masks they have these little lanterns. So probably two, three minutes before four o’clock in the morning, the entire city goes dark. There’s not a light that is on in the city. No street lamps, no store lamps, nothing. And it goes dark, and at four o’clock all these little lanterns start glowing and they march through this dark street playing their instruments. It gives you chills when you see it and when you are there. It’s really quite incredible.

Chris: With the dark streets at four o’clock, are we doing four o’clock AM or PM?

Claudia: AM.

Chris: Oh my Goodness. Okay. I realized at some point, yeah, that four o’clock even in winter time isn’t going to be that dark. Oh my. Interesting. Okay.

Claudia: Yeah. That’s the official start. They wander through the streets probably till like sevenish, and at that point you might go and get your traditional fair of…during those three days the traditional fair is a flour soup or onion pie, those are the two things. And a glass of white wine.

Chris: A flour soup? You’re talking about bread flour sort of flour.

Claudia: Yeah.

Chris: That sounds fairly basic.

Claudia: It is very basic. Yeah.

Chris: Okay. So it is associated…or was associated, then, probably with Lent and giving things up, probably, for having flour soup?

Claudia: Yeah, for your meal. Yeah. And then Monday afternoon you have huge parade. I think it is somewhere around like 300 floats now that last several hours. People come and watch this, and the participants, they threw out oranges, flowers, confetti. And then, each float has a little theme to…usually they make fun of local personalities or stuff that was really big in Switzerland and highlight something like that.

Chris: So if you read up on your Swiss politics ahead of time, you will appreciate the float spinner?

Claudia: You will appreciate it. That’s right. You’ll know what’s going on. And sometimes international.

Chris: Yeah, the Dusseldorf braid that I was at for a carnival, there were definitely both local politicians that were being lampooned and a few that I recognized from the international stage. Maybe a US president or two.

Claudia: Exactly, yeah.

Chris: Interesting. Okay. And we are watching this with a glass of Gluhwein in our hand or something like that to keep warm?

Claudia: Definitely. Yep. That is always good, that is always good. And then really that goes on till Thursday morning at four o’clock. It really lasts 72 hours, and then it’s over.

Chris: The festival not the parade?

Claudia: Correct. The festival.

Chris: Okay. Are there other events that are going on than besides marching through the city with lit brooms in the middle of the night in the big parade?

Claudia: Monday and Wednesday night is a big night for….mainly in restaurants, and that is when these groups, they’re still wear masks and costumes, and they go to the restaurants and they really sing their poems now. And it’s more poems where they make fun of local news and politicians again. But that is huge. That is a huge draw. And Wednesday night you have out on the market square, you have a big concert of all the bands. So it’s fun.

Chris: Interesting. Good fun. And this year is just finished.

Claudia: Just finished last Wednesday.

Chris: We are telling her preparing for next year here, but…

Claudia: That is correct, correct.

Chris: Excellent.

Claudia: I already checked. I think it’s March 6 when it starts next year.

Chris: 2017, for those people who are listening to this somewhat in the future. Okay. Excellent.

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Excellent. And you mentioned earlier couple of things I wanted to get back to, is some good hikes outside of town. Do you want to be specific what your favorite hike or two is in the Basel region?

Claudia: Switzerland is pretty small, so you could jump on a train and you can get anywhere in Switzerland.

Chris: Anywhere, sure.

Claudia: Within an hour you are close to the mountains. That is always a great little day excursion if you are there for a week.

Chris: Where would you go?

Claudia: I would probably say easiest one, I will go to Lucernes. And from there you have probably three or four mountains in easy reach if you want to do a nice hike.

Chris: Okay. Yeah, I was going to talk about with getting around in Switzerland. It is not hard to drive either. But the train is definitely something that I think people need to be aware of because we are in Switzerland. The trains run on time.

Claudia: They run on time.

Chris: They are very pleasant experience.

Claudia: They are great experience. It is so much easier. Driving is super easy, but then you always have to find parking spot, the charging for parking.

Chris: Sure, sure. Once you get inside the cities, having a car is not great advantage. Although getting to some place like Interlaken, some place like that, it is not difficult to have a car there. But yeah, you are right. Downtown you don’t really want one. Excellent. Any tricks we ended to know about saving money, because we are in Switzerland and the Swiss franc is usually high against the dollar and other currencies?

Claudia: It is. Now, going back, I am always a little bit in shock how much I am spending. But now I always say, go to the grocery store, pick up a drink, grab a sandwich, rather than going to a restaurant and have full-blown lunch. That is definitely where you are going to save some money.

Chris: Well, and if we are going off on a hike, we can make it a picnic.

Claudia: That is right. Grab the backpack.

Chris: Now, Switzerland is a small country but it has an amazing amount of variety in the sense that Basel is not Lucerne, is not Geneva, is not Zurich. What makes Basel different?

Claudia: Basel to me is still…call it the old town. So, to me, it is a town. It hasn’t become big city, so to speak. It is, but it doesn’t feel like it

Chris: So not as businesslike as Zurich?

Claudia: Correct. Not quite as international as Geneva. But yet, I think we are heading that way. Basel is big in pharmaceutical, so yeah. All the major pharmaceutical companies are headquartered there. So we are seeing a lot more international businesses, but it’s just a little bit more….I think it is a little bit more charming than the other cities.

Chris: Okay. And if I think I know Switzerland but I haven’t been to Basel, what’s going to surprise me about Basel?

Claudia: I am going to say the friendliness of the locals. I think that is really what’s always…makes me smile. I think that’s why I like to walk through one side of the town to the other side. It’s just to see the locals. I think it is every Wednesday morning, they still have farmer’s market in the market square, and just to stop there, and chat with everybody, I think it is just great.

Chris: Just once I want somebody to say people are really unfriendly.

Claudia: I know. Right?

Chris: There is one episode, one episode actually where I can think of where the guest said that. But we won’t pick on Malta now. But the other thing you mentioned that I want to get back to is you mentioned churches, but we only talked about the cathedral. Is there any other church historical or interesting that you wanted to cover or is the cathedral pretty much the one we can see?

Claudia: No, it definitely is the cathedral. Now, there is in the fall, I think it is two weeks, there is almost like a fairground and outside the cathedral is a huge Ferris wheel at that point. That is why I just remembered that. If you happen to be there in the fall and you see that, that’s a great ride. You are right there in the Rhine, overlooking the cathedral, and then you take Ferris wheel.

Chris: And you mentioned the Rhine and boat trips on the Rhine. You were, I think, just doing a quick boat trip across the Rhine, or is there a sightseeing trip that you would recommend?

Claudia: No, there is no sightseeing trips, but there’s four different little ferries that you can take at various points just across the river.

Chris: Okay. And then, let’s just talk about if I’m using Basel as my home base, are there a couple day trips that you can recommend from Basel?

Claudia: Definitely Lucerne, I would definitely check that one out. You can to Interlakan and check out the Young Frau.

Chris: And tell people what that is?

Claudia: The Young Frau? Well, Interlakan itself is a really great town.

Chris: Strangely enough in between the lakes. Hence, Interelakan.

Claudia: That is correct. And the Young Frau is one of the three…there is really a chain of mountains right there and the Young Frau is the most famous one. It also has a restaurant on the very top like most of the Swiss mountains, but it is the highest one I believe, at 3,400 meters, I think, above sea level. So, really great experience. You can see the glaciers. They have ice place up there where you can go through. It is an awesome place up there.

Chris: We should see whether permitting, because I have stayed in Interlakan to go visit there and wants able to because of the weather. You have to get back to that. And as long as you’re mentioning Interlakan, one of my favorite castles in Switzerland is Oberhoffen Castle which is right on one of the two lakes that surround Interlakan. Just a beautiful little castle with one little turret that goes out into the water. So you’ve probably seen pictures of this. Pretty pretty.

Claudia: Where you almost like stand on the water. Yeah.

Chris: Any other sight trips that you would recommend while we are in Basel?

Claudia: Yeah, there is actually…if you go then across the border to France, for instance, they have gorgeous little towns. Colmar, which is this beautiful little town filled with…when we were there last summer, filled with little flowers. It is really, really cute. So you can do day trips over to France, you can do them over to Germany. They’re really close by.

Chris: The first time we were in Basel, we were touring the Route of Wein, the wine road in France in Ales Serene, which basically comes right down to Basel. I don’t it actually comes the way there, but it is an easy trip to combine. That or a trip to Strasberg.

Claudia: Yeah, Strasberg.

Chris: Excellent. Before we get to my last four questions, what else should we know before we go to Basel?

Claudia: Well, obvious where you are going to stay. Maybe read up a little bit, have a good map maybe, on your phone, you are ready to go. It is pretty easy.

Chris: Okay. Last four questions. You’re staying in the pretties spot in Basel, where are you standing and what are you looking at?

Claudia: The prettiest spot for me is probably up by the cathedral where I can see the Rhine River. Switzerland, the mother of our nation, her name is Helvetia. So she is this woman, almost like Lady Liberty. Dressed in the gown, and then she has the shield. And there is a spot where she sits down. You see the statue. She sits down by the river and rests her shield, and I love that spot just as much. So, as long as I can see the river, I am totally fine.

Chris: One thing that makes you laugh and say, “Only in Basel”?

Claudia: Definitely the carnival. I love the humor the locals have.

Chris: Can you give me an example?

Claudia: Well, it’s very dry. They are very sarcastic people.

Chris: So, what is a typical Basel joke?

Claudia: In English? Couldn’t even tell you one. I honestly…

Chris: Can you tell us one in German?

Claudia: No.

Chris: Oh well. Okay. And finish this. “You really know you are in Basel when” what?

Claudia: It really is when it’s two minutes before four o’clock in the morning and the carnival starts, and all the lights are going off, because there is pretty big anticipation here.

Chris: That is pretty unique too.

Claudia: Exactly. And you know, there are all these people around, and there is hardly a sound in that city, which is so crazy, too. And you are just waiting there and you can’t wait for it to start. I think that is what it is.

Chris: Excellent. And if you had to summarize Basel in just three words, what three words would you use?

Claudia: Well, I am going to use old town as one word. It’s really my charming, modern, old town. It really is. It’s something that provides everything.

Chris: Excellent. Our guest again has been Claudia McCoy from Saint Louis. And Claudia, thanks so much for coming on Amateur Travel and sharing your love for your home town, Basel, Switzerland.

Claudia: I loved it. Thank you so much. It was fun.

Chris: I heard this week from Darrel who said, “I meant to send this weeks ago, but better later than never. I have long been a listener and always enjoyed the show. I always like the variety the different guests bring while you are very consistent. Somehow the show is always been a surprise while being exactly what I expect. While I work to travel, it is never enough, but your show helps me ease the cubical blues and keeps me looking forward to my next trip. Currently, Saint Petersburg in September. I just wanted to say I was so pleased to hearing your voice after listening to my second favorite podcast, The Daily Tech News Show. It feels like a natural fit for you to bring to a travel tech voice to DTNS. Keep up the fantastic work. Darrel”

For those of you who don’t know, my favorite tech news show, like Darrel, is a show called The Daily Tech News Show by a friend and fellow podcaster Tom Merit. And I have been doing, probably weekly for him, just a tech and travel minute. Just a little bit of knowledge about travel and technology, and how they go together.

On a completely unrelated note, I am looking forward in just a couple of weeks, meeting up with some of you and heading off to Cambodia. So that should be exciting. I just put a picture up of a Camaro ruin that I saw just on the border of Thailand and Cambodia on the website today because I am starting to get in travel mode. And coincidently, some of you listened to the show that we did cruising around Cape Horn in South America, and one of the couples that sat at our table that we met on that are coming to visit us this weekend. So it’s a time to think about traveling with some of you, and to catch up with some of you who I’ve travelled with before. And although I like solo travel from time to time, just wrote an article about Sometimes You Need a Road Trip on the blog, I also like spending time with people that I like and that is a pretty darn way to travel as well.

With that, we are going to end this episode of Amateur Traveler. If you have a question, send an email to host at amaterutraveler.com, or better yet, leave a comment on this episode at AmateurTraveler.com. You find all the links in the show notes and the lyrics on this episode. And as always, thanks so much for listening.

Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.

Travel to Basel Switzerland - What to Do, See and Eat

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by Chris Christensen

I am the host of the Amateur Traveler. The Amateur Traveler is an online travel show that focuses primarily on travel destinations and what are the best places to travel to. It includes both a weekly audio podcast, a video podcast, and a blog.

One Response to “Travel to Basel, Switzerland – Episode 506 Transcript”

Jim

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My mom Cecile and I were born in Basel, Switzerland. We now live in Southern California, USA. I can send you photos from Southern California if you like 🙂

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