26Cantons52Weeks: Basel-Stadt

Jellyfish in the Vivarium

Canton: Basel-Stadt

Destination: Zoo Basel

Interesting thing: Basel Zoo is called “Zolli” by loving locals, according to tourist site MySwitzerland

Special guests: my parents again (this was the last one, sadly!)

I’m not big on zoos, nor animals in general, but when you have young kids to entertain, whatchagonnado? And I’ll tell you a secret:

Basel Zoo is better than Zurich Zoo.

While it feels rather disloyal to say it, Switzerland’s oldest and largest zoo (by number of animals) in Basel seems to show that experience wins hands-down over Zurich’s… um… funding? Location? I don’t know.

Don’t get me wrong. Zurich Zoo is great and has saved my elephant-hide on many occasions when I desperately needed somewhere easy-ish to take two small kids that provided entertainment, shelter and food for an entire day.

And yet… and yet… Zurich Zoo sprawls rather awkwardly over an uneven, hilly terrain that means you always spend more time hoofing about than actually viewing your favourite four-legged creatures. Because of the layout, you have to make choices, too: Lions or Elephants? Tigers or Lemurs? Distance and gradient mean it’s almost impossible to see both in the same visit, especially with youngsters in tow.

Basel, on the other hand, curves and undulates in a far more pleasant and sensible-seeming way, meaning you naturally come across a lovely variety of its animal inhabitants. This is the second time I’ve been and I started from different ends of the zoo each time but on both occasions managed to see the gorgeous snow leopards, rhinos, elephants, giraffes, orangutans and the fish house/Vivarium. My eldest is also perversely fascinated by the locusts here and we loved seeing the Bison last year (missed them this time around – you can’t see everything!). But the stars of the show were definitely the Hippos. Wow, they put on a fantastic display.

Giraffes at Zoo Basel

Plus the main restaurant is brilliant. Maybe we had great timing (although we were there on a weekend, in school holidays), or perhaps there was a winning ratio of adults to kids (3:2 versus 2:4 usually at Zuri!) but Basel Zoo’s main eatery seemed far better set out and less crowded than its Zurich counterpart/s. Plus, they have the innovation of bagged lunches for kids and, believe me, when you’re juggling two hungry youngsters, a buggy and your own meal, it’s an absolute godsend not to have to balance a precarious lunch-tray as well!

Don’t get me wrong, Zurich Zoo is amazing but I gotta say, Basel’s got the edge. Bravo Basel!

Two months / nine weekends to go and eight cantons left to visit/ write up… hmmm. 

Toucan time

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We got our new (second hand) car last week so there was only one thing to do on the weekend: Road Trip!

We drove about 2 hours to Papiliorama – a slice of Belize Rainforest located just south of Switzerland’s capital city, Bern. It was great. The outside temp was about 1 degree Celsius but inside the geodomes it was a toasty 20-27.  So actually quite a worthwhile winter jaunt!

There were several different sections. First we went into the Jungle Trek bit – it’s a recreation of a 10,000 hectare piece of rainforest the Papiliorama Foundation sponsors in South America and contains exotic birds, lizards (chamelions etc), coatis and peccary pigs. The toucans were particularly impressive. I don’t think I’ve seen one in real life before and I kind of expected them to be bigger. But they’re a good size, similar to a Kookaburra and with that fantastic beak. I mostly hate birds but Kookaburras and Toucans are awesome.

Next we did a circuit of the outside bit – maybe not as successful in winter. Particularly the Swiss Highland bug dome, where everything was dead or hibernating. The farm section was good though – cute baby dwarf goats and the large hairy pigs were excellent grunters: SQUEEEEHHH!

Next we visited the butterfly dome, which was really enchanting. So many colourful and beautifully patterned butterflies flitting about. P wasn’t wildly impressed by this, he is a man after my own heart – seen it, move on! But it was warm and somehow quite peaceful to be there among the floating insects and stinky fruit they feed on. Speaking of stinky, the final bit we visited was the Nocturnarama dome – and I’m glad we did. It was almost pitch black and had an excellent musky stink from the nocturnal beasts housed within – mostly monkey / rodent type things – like tree racooons. Tiny bats were flitting all about and in the centre they had a big pool with freshwater stingrays (P LOVES stingrays) and big Amazonian fish. There were also Ocelots but we couldn’t spot them, and Caimans, which looked completely freaky in the UV lights – like glowing dinosaurs.

The whole place was sweetly un-crowded in the way of many Swiss attractions (not sure if this was due to the season/Christmas being so close or just the usual Swiss thing of less people, less craziness: I am still getting used to good things being “easy” and not rammed after London!) and also sweetly dinky with a crappy, expensive cafe that was exactly what we wanted after our drive. Definitely worth the trip and looking forward to exploring more Swiss family attractions in 2015!

PS: Thanks to everyone who contacted me after my last Sux Baby post. I really appreciate all the support and I am feeling a bit better. x