The Tippy Top

On a day threatening to rain we thought we’d stay (relatively) close to home and explore Basel a bit. We first went to find my work on public transportation so that on my first day I wouldn’t arrive two hours late after being overtaken by tram-pirates (I have not heard that is a thing, but I imagine it might be, and so am now worried about it, which is totally normal). We found work without incident but it was closed, which makes sense since it was a Swiss holiday. (Whit Monday; apparently that is a thing, but I don’t know enough to worry about it. Perhaps that is when pirates take the day off to plan their next tram attack? OK, now I’m worried.)


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Us on the “fairy” boat with Cori, our wonderful nanny who is here for a few weeks. No pirates here either.

With just a little bit of rain falling on our heads we decided our next step was to explore the Basel Cathedral (or Münster) just across the Rhine river. First a small ferry, which the kids were very excited about until I realized I had fallen to another homonym-fail and they thought it was a ‘fairy’ boat–I understand their disappointment. So we boarded the small boat, discussed how vicious homonyms can be, and floated our way across the river propelled only by the current while attached to a tall line. Once we arrived, there was a steep grade with many stairs to get from the river bank up to the cathedral courtyard. H (3) cheerfully declared “I love stairs!” and “I want to climb to the tippy top!” and none of us yet realized what an amazing stair-filled treat she was really in for.


“Ssshhhhh,” they say right as we arrive, “five minutes.”

Now that “service” sign out front made more sense, there was a 

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The Basel Cathedral, or Münster

service going on in the church right now for the religious Whit Monday holiday, and it didn’t have anything to do with where you might get help figuring out how to climb to the top. So we tootled around for five minutes looking at all the closed shops in the plaza and their fancy closed doors, and then went back.

Now, no one says anything, but there is a line of people at what appears to be a gift shop kiosk paying the cashier for something. To get in? To buy a postcard? No idea. We walk in and no one seems to stop us but then we see a sign on the door leading up to the tower stairs that says “5 CHF, only groups >2” Ah, OK, we get in line.

This is what they say: “Kids are free, adults are five Swiss francs each.”

This is what they don’t say: “Looks like you have a three year old there. Did you know the steps are the tinyist of tinyist, sections are in complete darkness, handrails ‘protecting’ from a downward abyss are either 1.5 feet apart, only a small rope, or totally non-existent? Do you like your child? If you do, I just thought you might like to know these things.”

Having none of this auxiliary information, we forge ahead into the door and very soon realize why they don’t allow groups of less than two–this is one place you really need the buddy system!

The stair photos really don’t do it justice as these were taken right at the beginning when we thought, “Oh this seems tough but OK,” and just before the thoughts of, “I need a death grip on each child. There is no free hand for the camera even though no one will believe these crazy stone spiral staircases one-foot wide and four inches deep. And why is it pitch dark in here?”

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After our recovery at the railing of death, but not yet at the top!

We forge up thinking (wrongly) that each viewing platform is the last, and finally reach 13 stories up above Basel for an amazing view. Our older child, C (6), can’t see the view because the stone railing is in her way. So she tries to climb on top of the stone rail that has 13 floors of nothing on the other side. I scream in fear, she gets down and cries, everyone is safe, no one is happy–you know, parenting. But we both soon recover and find still more sets of stairs to get to the very ‘tippy top.’



The view is amazing and we let it sink in as we slowly realize that the way down is the same as the way up, and what happens if you are trying to go down as someone else is trying to go up on those stairs the size of a slice of pie? How will people know you are coming and not be on the stairs at the same time? And this, we find out,  is exactly why you bring loud noise machines, er, kids, with you on such occasions.

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The Payoff: view of the Rhine and Basel from the top

Later on, as we walked through the basement crypt Barry mused “I wonder how many of these dead people fell down the stairs?”

In the end everyone was a real trooper and the view was awesome to see, but if you’re planning a trip to the Basel Münster with tiny tots, know the stairs are many, steep, and small. Next perhaps we try something simpler? Finding a swimming pool perhaps?


6 thoughts on “The Tippy Top

  1. Yes, the cathedral stairs are quite scary. When we went I saw someone climbing up in heels! Madness!

    For swimming pools, aquabasiliea in Pratteln is supposed to be good:
    If you just want an ordinary swimming pool without slides and stuff, Rialto is the main one (near the SBB train station), but it closes for the summer on 3rd July (I guess people are supposed to go to outdoor pools in the summer?)


  2. Pingback: A Day in Freiburg, Germany (with kids) | Swiss Family Sabbatical

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