Monday, 4 November 2013

Home Run: There's No Place Like It

When your pet dies, your relationship crumbles or your company announces 3,000 redundancies throwing career prospects up in the air and calling your whole professional future into question, what better place to seek comfort and clarity than the bosom of your own childhood home?

If that haven happens to feature endless mountains of cheese and stacks of chocolate coupled with the best parents a girl could wish for and a wonderfully human-like cat with a penchant for pretending to be a scarf and an unparalleled sense of humour, then you’re in luck.

I, for one, happen to be in luck.


So on Friday night - running shoes stowed safely in my hand luggage - I arrived at Heathrow airport, brain-frazzled from a week of deciphering corporate balance sheets and being cajoled by smooth-talking bankers.

On its surface, Basel is an industrial hotspot and the two-dimensional capital of Europe’s pharmaceuticals and chemicals industry, flecked with asset managers, high-net-worth individuals and boutique insurance groups.

But squint past the capitalist hue and you will find a picturesque historic city, peppered with more museums per square mile than anywhere else in the world.

Aorta-like, the Rhine River tears through its centre, cleaving it into two contrasting worlds: On the one side, an edgy, multicultural melange dubbed “lesser Basel”, and on the other, a bustling market town, known as “greater Basel”, paying cultural tributes to its French and German neightbours.

A world class university, dozens of churches, coffee shops, bars and jazz clubs attract tourists from both beyond and within the country’s borders, while parks, forests vineyards and fields on the periphery ensure that hobby athletes are not left twiddling their thumbs.    
  
It was in the suburbs of Basel that I first discovered my love of running.

At the tender age of fifteen, I jogged my first tentative steps and quickly developed a passion for navigating forests, conquering hills and savouring each breath of pure Helvetian air to hit my lungs.

It’s unsurprising you’ll agree, that a trip to Switzerland is therefore never complete for me without at least one run; whether that be along the banks of the untamed Rhine, over the hills of the Alsace wine country or simply along the shady cobbled streets of the old town – suspended forever in time.

MEMORY LANE

I’d like to say I woke up early on Saturday, but catching up with family on several months of stories, combined with food and wine that beckoned to be eaten, had kept us all up well past midnight. By the time I prised my eyes open, it was therefore already pushing 10am, and the city bustling with weekend shoppers, buskers and snap-happy tourists.

A quick banana, sip of tea and I was on my way.

The beauty of Basel is that it is large enough to showcase cultural and social diversity, but also compact enough to be explorable in just a few hours of leisurely ambling – or if you prefer, less than an hour of brisk running.

The route I chose on Saturday took me through a former gateway to the city, past fragrant botanical gardens, a world class hospital and renowned university – boasting alumni by the names of Jacob Bernoulli, Carl Jung and Leonhard Euler.

In the middle of the Johanniter Bridge, I relished a clear view into both Germany and France, before dropping back down onto the river and powering upstream.

Three bridges later I crossed back over, trotting through shadows of the great Basel Minster - dating back to 1019 - and the 500-year old town hall and then achingly modern designer boutiques and haute couture jewelers, catching a glimpse of my rosy reflection in a perfectly polished window.

FOR THE MOMENT

As I clambered back up the hill, past the fabulous Bird’s Eye Club – where I first encountered jazz – and along the walls of the old prison, my GPS reliably informed me that I was on track for a 5k personal best.

Consciously, I sucked in the crisp air - hints of candy floss and toffee apples from the autumn fair lacing it - and upped my tempo a notch: The beating of my feet on the pavement, the rush of blood in my ears, the saltiness of sweat on my lip, the thought of breakfast on my brain and then that last painful push as I rounded the corner, bared the lactic burn and crossed the virtual finish line.

A few minutes later, spread across the floor, sucking on a water bottle and stretching out my calves – the cat rubbing her silky body against by sweaty socks and the smell of toast and coffee in the air – I mused at how far away the London rush hour was, the smog of noise and fumes and crowds of elbowing city boys; how distant the fear of job cuts appeared, the jitter of redundancies and the concern about my professional future.

I’m not saying they’d evaporated for good, but for that second, sprawled on the floor basking in post-run adrenaline, with a silky cat for company, the world was in order and I for one, was healthy, happy and - perhaps most importantly - at home.

(Image courtesy www.swiss-eprint.ch)

Fancy a trip to Basel? EasyJet (www.easyjet.com) flies to Basel/Mulhouse airport mutliple times a day from Stansted and Gatwick. Flight time around 90 minutes. Bus 34 will take you directly from the airport into the city centre. For hotel suggestions visit www.basel.com

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