Fall in Basel: Art, music, tennis

John Grunenfelder, 70, is a part-year resident of Huntersville, and part-year resident of his native Basel, Switzerland, from which he recently returned. He is a retired member of the Basel Chamber of Commerce.

Q. What's fall like in Basel?

It's a little bit calmer, more easy-going. Children are off from school for 14 days: It's called Herbst-Ferien, which means “fall vacation,” and is usually held from the end of September to the beginning of October.

Outdoors, it looks a little bit like Maine. The leaves turn a little earlier than in much of Europe. Basel is in northern Switzerland, near the French and German borders.

We have oak, maples and what we call plantanen (sycamore). It's not as colorful as Maine – leaves go quickly from green to brown and then fall. Temperatures are between 15 and 18 Celsius (59-64 Fahrenheit) during the day; at night it's cool sometimes – down to 3 or 4 (37-39 Fahrenheit).

Q. Is it a big season for tourism?

The two big arts events are in spring. Art Basel has classic and modern art; Basel World is for watches and jewelry.

In fall, Basel's well-known art museums have special events. The Basel Museum of Art has a famous Picasso exhibit, as well as Monet, Durer, Holbein and famous Swiss artists like Hans Erni, who is still alive, and Hodel. The Beyler Museum, which is in the suburb of Riehen, has more modern art.

Fall is when tourists can get a deal on packages – hotel plus a visitor (discount) card, bus tickets and so on. Fall is when they have the Avo – a series of special concerts where internationally known musicians are invited to play in churches, halls and theaters.

And there's the Basel Autumn Fair. It has been in existence for more than 500 years. Besides all kinds of merchandise for sale, there's now also a large number of amusement-park attractions set up at different places around town. Something special at the fair is pottery from the Alsace region, over the border in France.

The Autumn Fair is held in October and November; Nov. 1 is a Catholic holiday – All Saints Day – and because schools close in nearby parts of France and Germany, all those people come to Basel.

Also in late October is tennis star Roger Federer's home tournament. Most matches are sold out beforehand; companies that are sponsors buy blocks of seats and give them to their VIPs.

Throughout the fall, people come for day trips – on the lakes, or out in the country on trains or buses more than their own cars. That includes retirees from all over the world, because they can buy a special ticket.

Q. Has there been a fuel crunch going on?

I don't think so. Gas is 1 Swiss franc and 86 cents for a liter (about $6.57 per gallon). It was higher before. I think people there drive a bit less; individuals often travel on the train system, which is owned by the government.

Q. Is Basel near the Swiss mountain country?

Rigi, Schildhorn and Zermatt are two to three hours, no more. You travel to Zermatt to see the Matterhorn (on the Swiss-Italian border). You leave Basel at 7:15 in the morning and you're back at 10 that night.

Q. Do train rates go up at the holidays?

No, they're not seasonal. If they go up, it's at the beginning of the year – and has to be approved by Parliament.

Q. The famous Swiss Army knife – do you have one?

Yes. I got one when I was in the military. Along with a gun and uniform, you also get a knife.

Q. Is it like the ones sold in stores?

They're similar. The normal military knife doesn't have a corkscrew; if you buy one in Switzerland, you have to ask for a knife that has a wine-bottle opener. But the true military knife does have a screwdriver with a beer-bottle opener.

They had a bit of a problem with the army knife. A Swiss company makes them, but the government received an offer from a manufacturer in China. There was a discussion about this in Parliament. Nobody agreed that fabrication of the knives should be done in China, so it was decided that the company in Switzerland would have the contract for the next several years.

Q. Do they sell them in army-surplus stores?

Yes, you can buy them where they sell weapons and ammunition. And in the tourist areas of town, you can buy them in a JC Penney or a Wal-Mart type of store.

You can also buy Swiss Army knives at the tourist office in Basel, where you can buy sightseeing tickets and everything else.