When I took a job out of college that involved a lot of travel, I was not exactly expecting glamour. I had been braced for a few years of toodling around America’s best office parks in my stylish rental car. Still, I was excited about the idea and I reaped benefits even in the most unexpected places.
But mixed in with innumerable journeys up and down the Jersey Turnpike, I’ve also seen my fair share of excitement, spending a fair amount of time in my own city of New York and jetting off to fun destinations like San Francisco. The particular relevance of my work experiences to this blog are the culinary experiences I’ve been able to have as a byproduct of my work at places like Slanted Door and Gary Danko on the West Coast and notable hotspots like PDT and Spice Market on the East Coast.
Of note to my co-blogger would also be the two months I spent eating Wawa hoagies. I convinced my team to forgo the cafeteria in favor of the Philly-area favorite because of all that we could learn from their superior business acumen. (The significantly superior sandwiches helped.)
2013 brought the most exotic work destination as of yet, sending me over the Atlantic to Basel, Switzerland. Before I set foot in the country, I knew nothing of Basel other than the legislation that bears its name. (The first time I got there, I joked there should have been a “Basel: Home of Financial Regulation” sign, the way many U.S. towns welcome you with their sports team accolades, but no one else thought I was that funny.)
On my way to Basel, I traveled through Zurich, a city for which I think the best adjective is “sturdy.” The city runs like clockwork — and is punctuated by clocks at every turn — and is incredibly easy to navigate. It sits on the edge of a beautiful lake, and though I didn’t have much time in the city (and was advised there wasn’t much to see), at least walking by the water provided for a pretty view.
…and by night.
Basel, just an hour north from Zurich by train, has aspects of both a quaint European village and an industrial powerhouse. Walking its adorable cobblestone streets, you pass the beautiful old city hall and centuries-old buildings, made even more picturesque when covered in snow.
On the other hand, a number of companies have corporate headquarters on the border city — Basel deals with the Swiss, Germans and French — and the city is lined with factories and office buildings. Despite its international surroundings, the city is Swiss through and through (or so I’m told). There’s a sense of formality and punctuality to all operations that is hard to find elsewhere, and the cheese selection is phenomenal.
When I first got to Switzerland, we partook in local tradition and ate our fair share of fondue and raclette. Both dishes feature copious amounts of melted cheese, though in slightly different forms. Fondue is the more internationally known, and its incarnations outside of Switzerland are pretty true to original form. Essentially, you get a vat of cheese and a bowl of bread, and you dip.
Raclette is less of an activity-based meal. At least in the restaurant where we had it, the cheese came to us melted and we ate chunks of the rich goodness with potatoes and pickles.
After a week, I needed a break from the Swiss cuisine. To the Swiss, “light” eating does not exist. I tried to order a salad as-is one day and discovered my dressing applied more like pasta sauce — a very generous and creamy coating. So my colleagues and I quickly banned fondue from our dining repertoire and set out in search of Basel’s other offerings.
It took some digging, but we found them, in the form of Asica, an African-Asian fusion restaurant with pretty decent curries, and Aroma, a tiny Italian trattoria, and my favorite, Eo Ipso, a trendy ambiguously European restaurant built inside of an old warehouse.
I also probably consumed my weight in chocolate, but that’s neither here nor there…
One of my favorite things about Basel was its airport. It’s one of the only truly international airports in the world; the structure sits firmly on the border of France and Switzerland (and just a 20-minute drive from Germany, too). When you land at the Basel airport, you have to very carefully choose your exit. Go out the wrong door and you’ll be in another country. The border is much more fluid than it once was, but there are still checkpoints; after all, Switzerland is not in the EU. The two sides of the airport take different currency and pick up different cell signals, and the cab lines are separated by a 15-foot-tall partition. The first time I landed in Basel, I was quite tickled.
My love for the tiny airport dissipated quickly when I faced a flight cancellation one Saturday morning that stranded me in Basel on my way to Washington, D.C., for the presidential inauguration. I had planned to fly to the capital via Paris and found myself stuck when my flight to France was delayed, delayed, delayed and then finally cancelled. That late in the day, there was no way I could make it to the U.S., and I was nervous to try the whole proceeding again the next day. Fortunately, nothing is really that far away in Europe. So after spending a day in the Basel airport, I formally migrated from Switzerland to France by exiting out a different door from the one I had entered in, took a taxi to Mulhouse and boarded an express train to Paris.
Three hours later, I was looking at the Seine and found myself with a dinner invitation; one of my colleagues had family in France who graciously made us risotto and served us a traditional king cake. I did not find the prize, but was still permitted to wear the crown.
I woke up on Sunday morning to a Paris blanketed in snow and a notification that my flight was, again, delayed. With an unplanned day in Paris, I decided to head to the one neighborhood I knew would be open (and that I knew I knew how to get to), the Marais. I trudged my way there as the snow continued to fall, pausing to have a café au lait and pain au chocolate to warm up. I easily could have taken the Metro, but it was a beautiful walk despite the cold. One thing I will say about Paris: nowhere else looks as pretty covered in snow.
With just enough time to have lunch before heading to the airport, I stopped at L’Aus du Falafel, which I would reason has among the best falafel I have ever had. OK, you could argue there are many other culinary delights I could have taken in while in Paris. But this is the one I know, and the one I knew I would enjoy, and enjoy I did.
Nearly 48 hours after I first arrived at the Basel airport, I finally touched down in Washington. I had sadly missed much of the gathering to which I was headed, though in the grand scheme of things, Paris is not too bad a place to be trapped.
However, I chose not to visit my formerly favorite little airport ever again.