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Back in the Saddle With Knights

Okay, neither of us has been knighted (yet), but Peter Schibli and I have been riding on routes long used by knights to a castle once inhabited by such warriors.

First built by a monk in the early 14th century, the castle on the summit of the hill with the most commanding view in the region. In the hazy distance we could easily make out Basel, where we started riding our aluminum horses this morning. The Landskron Castle was owned by the bishop of Basel long before the city joined the Swiss Confederation, but now it's just barely on the French side of the modern border line. Its complex history of ownership – including by Swedes during the 30 Years War and by Bavarians who almost blew it up after taking it from the Swedes – is a microcosm of the numbing complexity of this region.

Peter now lives in Bern, where he's the director of swissinfo, but he lived in Basel for 15 years. I was thrilled when he offered to join me today, as his knowledge of this region is immense and his enthusiasm infectious. The first thing he said was that today we'd be visiting four cantons: the two of Basel (city and country), Solothurn and Jura. Plus France, as we've been weaving back and forth across the border, often without realising it. While we started in Protestant country, Solothurn is very "black", i.e. Catholic. But everything is so close and entangled that here a Basel tramline makes multiple border crossings, just as we do.

A difficult border issue for houses around here today is the problem of thefts by gypsies, who live in France but send their children to steal in Switzerland. If the Swiss police catch them, they're turned over to French authorities. But since the crimes were committed in Switzerland, the French let them go. Apparently this is why we've seen a number of surveillance cameras near the border – though not a single guard.

And now lunch of plum tart, coffee and "Tête de moine" (monk's head cheese) is over and it's time to get back on our steeds, headed for the Jura. Today we've even had a glimpse of the sun, but tomorrow is scheduled to be wet.

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