From Yukon Wilderness to European History in 24 Hours

On Friday morning, Cathy and I were looking out our window at the vast wilderness behind our home. Twenty-four hours later, we were walking along the Rhine River in Switzerland, looking at 750-year-old homes in a city of three-quarters of a million people. It’s an amazing world we live in.

We started this adventure by catching the 08:50 Air Canada Express flight from Whitehorse to Vancouver. The great fares we got on the flights are a big part of the reason we’re here – we make a lot of draft plans that die when we check air. Here, at 09:14, we’re over Tagish Lake, with Lake Bennett stretching off into the distance.

Aerial view of Tagish Lake and Lake Bennett, Yukon
Fog fills the valley of the Stikine River in northern British Columbia.

Fog fills the valley of the Stikine River
While most people on airplanes watch a movie or read, on a day like this I’m glued to the window. From desert landforms and glaciers to the way farms and cities are laid out, it all fascinates me.

A glacier in central British Columbia
Lining up for the runway at Vancouver at 11:00 – just look at all those people!

Aerial view of Vancouver
We had almost 6 hours to kill until our next flight, so did a lot of wandering. Along the way, I saw this bottle of 70-year-old Scotch, priced at $35,888 – per bottle, not per pickup load 🙂 I wonder how well $1,400 shooters would sell in Whitehorse!

A $36,000 bottle of whiskey
Just after 1:00pm, the plane that would take us to Amsterdam, a Boeing 777-200 operated by KLM, landed.

A Boeing 777-200 operated by KLM
Vancouver must rate very highly in terms of user-friendly airports. It’s beautiful architecturally, seldom gets crowded, and the art collection is wonderful. This large sculpture is “The Story of Fog Woman and Raven” by Dempsey Bob from the tiny village of Telegraph Creek, BC.

The Story of Fog Woman and Raven by Dempsey Bob
At 4:00pm, we said goodbye to Vancouver and headed northwest.

Aerial view of Vancouver
A massive mine tailings pond near Kamloops, seen at 4:20.

The Rocky Mountains near Jasper, from FL 390 or 39,000 feet. It clouded over just after 5:00pm and I lost my view.

I thought that the pasta with salmon that I had for dinner was pretty decent, but Cathy said that her pasta with chicken wasn’t good at all. The little bottle of wine, with a cognac after dinner, helped both of us get some sleep as we crossed the continent and the Atlantic Ocean, through the night.

Dinner on a KLM flight
This was our position at 8:10pm Vancouver time.

Just after I took the photo above, the flight data recorded a ground speed of 1,000 kmh, and a few minutes later I saw 1,050. The 777-200 has a normal cruising speed of 900 kmh, so we had an excellent tailwind.

Ground speed 1,044 kmh
When dawn broke at 11:35pm Vancouver time, 6:35 local, we were still above clouds. I checked a couple of times during the night for Northern Lights, but had no luck in that direction either.

Dawn over the North Atlantic
The weather as we descended into Schiphol Airport at Amsterdam (AMS) was light rain with very low clouds. Since we weren’t going to be leaving the airport it didn’t matter much other than the limited views out the airplane window.

The approach into Amsterdam Schiphol Airport
Schiphol Airport is massive, and I’m impressed that it functions at the apparently high level of efficiency it does. We’d heard stories about how awful it is to navigate, but had no problem getting from one flight to the other despite the fact that the gates were on opposite sides of the complex, a half-hour walk.

AMS - Amsterdam Schiphol Airport
These self-serve transfer stations by KLM are new and can do many things including printing you a boarding card. They didn’t work for us, but a ticket agent at a nearby transfer station got it done for us – they do seem to work for most people. Multi-layer code-share ticketing seemed to be the issue on ours.

KLM self-serve transfer stations at AMS
AMS has run out of boarding gates, and many people have to take a bus to their aircraft and load from the ground.

A bus at Schiphol Airport

I remember little about our flight from Amsterdam to Basel on a little Fokker 70 operated by KLM cityhopper. My window as mostly blocked by an engine and/or wing, the visibility was poor, and we both slept for most of the 55-minute flight.

EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg sits at the junction of 3 countries – Switzerland, Germany and France, and after getting your luggage, you pick your exit door by the country you’re going to. If I hadn’t been exhausted by this point I would have taken some photos of some interesting signage.

We caught a bus to the main railway station in Basel, then a tram from there to the Marktplatz near our hotel and walked 3 blocks from there. All in all it was quite easy. And the cost? Zero Swiss francs – your hotel confirmation gets you free public transportation to your hotel area, and then the hotel gives you a transit pass that’s good for the duration of your stay – how civilized!

For people who want to immerse themselves in the city but don’t have a royal budget, the Hotel Basel is highly recommended. They’ve thought of everything to make our stay comfortable – even the beer and wine in the mini-bar is complimentary. This photo was shot at 2:30pm local, which would be 5:30am in Whitehorse, so our bodies are rather confused.

The Hotel Basel
Our view was obstructed by scaffolding and netting due to a 3-month-long facade cleaning. Disappointing, but a minor issue given the benefits of the property. We had a short nap, then headed out to explore.

Our view from the Hotel Basel
As we left the hotel, this was the view in front of us. We congratulated ourselves on getting here 🙂 It was 20 years ago that I last left Europe – Cathy’s been to Italy more recently, but it’s still been a long time. As we were on the bus from the airport, I noted how comfortable it all seemed – I had been in Munich for 7 months, and felt perfectly at ease with the differences that many people apparently find overwhelming.

Historic Basel
The Rathaus Basel, or Basel Town Hall, dominates the Marktplatz. I very quickly regretted not spending more time on my German language course. My life has been crazy lately, but knowing German makes a visit much more fulfilling, though everyone seems to speak English if they need to.

Rathaus Basel, or Basel Town Hall
All it takes to get people to gather is to build some steps, it seems, and the many steps along the Rhine River were all very popular.

Steps along the Rhine River
Even the Salvation Army shelter is charming.

Salvation Army shelter in Basel, Switzerland
From the grand to the simple, I love architecture, and the way people interact with good designs. We noted 2 homes along the Rhine that were built in the 1340s – incredible to someone who thinks of a 100-year-old house as historic.

A simple, historic home in Basel
The Rhine River is going to be our home for 13 days shortly, and this is an excellent introduction to it.

Steps along the Rhine River
The hotel Les Trois Rois on the river is apparently the place to stay if the word “budget” isn’t really in your vocabulary – their early-bird specials of-season start at just over $500 Canadian per night. We went in the entrance, were suitably awed, and continued on our way 🙂

Les Trois Rois, Basel
6:50 pm – time to settle down with our first Swiss beer, a Feldschlosschen, a good meal, and some excellent people-watching on the Marktplatz.

Feldschlosschen beer
The view from our table at 7:30pm.

A walk after dinner brought us to the Cathedral (Münster). Originally a Catholic cathedral and today a reformed Protestant church, it was built of red sandstone between 1019 and 1500 in Romanesque and Gothic styles.

So many streets and back alleys to explore, so little energy left! We were back at the hotel by 8:30 and sleep not long after.

I started writing this post just after midnight – it’s now 2:00am and I had better get back to bed, as we have a busy day ahead of us. With a superb weather forecast, the plan is to take the train to Lucerne for a tour up and around Mount Pilatus by cog railway, aerial tramway, boat and bus.


From Yukon Wilderness to European History in 24 Hours — 1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Sunny in Skagway? Road Trip!