I’m sat on the train heading to Basel from Geneva, when I notice the announcement and the information board inside the train is now in German. You may not know that Switzerland has two *official languages – French and German. The Röstigraben (Der Röstigraben in German or the barrière de rösti in French) is an invisible barrier between French-Speaking Switzerland and German- speaking Switzerland. But it’s not just the languages that are spoken in both areas that are different. The politics and traditions are also different. As the train makes it way towards Basel, I look forward to the chance to practise my German for the day.

I’m visiting Basel as part of a trip with the *Erasmus Student Network (ESN) run by students from Geneva University. The train ticket cost 15CHF (£13.37) which is a lot cheaper than normal train travel in Switzerland! I arrive at Geneva station at 6:40am on a freezing cold Saturday morning and make friends with two students from Geneva University. Laura is from Belgium and Soraya is from Germany and we spend the three-hour journey getting to know each other.

Once we arrive at Basel station, we get a group photo and are left to explore the city. We head to the nearest coffee shop to get a hot drink. Afterwards, we visit Bider und Tanner, a very popular independent bookstore that is a *bookworm’s paradise with a wide selection of books in different languages. Whilst reading the *blurb of a German novel, I overhear one of the booksellers speaking Swiss German to a customer and enjoy listening to its beautiful sound, even though I don’t understand it.

We then make our way to the beautiful old town with its impressive views over the river Rhine and enjoy lunch at a pizza restaurant. Following lunch, we spend our time visiting high street shops as well as the wonderful German Christmas market. Here, we find lots of wooden huts selling anything and everything from Glühwein (mulled wine), Bratwurst (fried sausage), and flavoured nuts, to dream catchers, jewellery, and dog treats! The atmosphere is full of fun and festive cheer, you can see that people are really enjoying being out and about after two years of Covid disruptions.

One of my personal *highlights of the Christmas market was seeing the huge Weihnachtspyramide (Christmas pyramid) as it reminded me of my dear German nan who handed down a normal-sized one to my dad, and then to myself. It’s a wonderful, traditional Christmas decoration with carefully crafted wooden pieces on different levels of a carousel. Each level has a different nativity scene. The flames from the special candles that surround the bottom of the carousel power the *propellers that make it turn.

Leaving behind the busy Christmas market, we make our way back to the station after a long and cold day exploring the beautiful city of Basel to catch the train back to Geneva.


*official languages – languages that are recognised by the law of a country

*Erasmus Student Network (ESN) – a student network that supports international student exchanges

* CHF – this stands for Swiss Franc, which is the currency used in Switzerland

* bookworm – someone who loves to read books

*blurb – the short description on the back of a book/DVD

*Rhine – a river that flows through Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands.

*highlight – the best bit of something

*propeller – a device made up of spinning blades that help move things through water/air