The One with Bern, Switzerland

Sunday, June 22, 2014

These posts take fooooorrreeeeevvvveeeeeeerrrr to write. I kinda dread it. But. They're fun to look back on. So here we go.
 Just a couple minutes after getting back on the "freeway" we entered Switzerland!
Random bit of trivia: We've seen the oval country stickers on cars and always wondered what the heck country "CH" is. It's Switzerland! How do you get CH from Switzerland? Well, the official name is the Confoederatio Helvetica. The country is named for the Celtic Helvetii tribe that lived here back in Roman times. 

Little, mountainous, efficient Switzerland is one of Europe's most appealing destinations. Wedged neatly between Germany, Austria, France, and Italy, Switzerland melds the best of all worlds - and adds a healthy dose of chocolate, cowbells, and cable cars. Fiercely independent and decidedly high-tech, the Swiss stubbornly hold on to their quaint traditions, too. Join the cheesemakers high atop an alp, try to call the shepherds on an alphorn, and hike through some of the world's most stunning mountain scenery. Switzerland is one of Europe's richest, best organized, expensive countries. Like the Boy Scouts, the Swiss count cleanliness, neatness, punctuality, tolerance, independence, thrift, and hard work as virtues... and they love pocketknives! The country is an enjoyable mix of bucolic peace and daring adventure. Nearly half of Switzerland - Europe's most mountainous country - consists of uninhabitable rocks and rugged Alps. On our drive from Vaduz, Liechtenstein to Bern, Switzerland, we "ooooohed" and "aaaaahed" at these jagged mountains!
It seems that any flat land (and quite a bit of hilly land) is cultivated into tidy little farms. While landlocked, Switzerland has more than its share of clear rivers and big, beautiful lakes with a striking mountain backdrop.
How gorgeous are these pastures?! How do people live up there like that?
So jaggedy and awesome!
Lake. Mountain. Valley way up there. So cool. So pretty. So awesome.
Despite the country's small size Switzerland is unusually diverse. Its wild geography has kept people apart historically, helping its many regions maintain their distinct cultural differences. Switzerland has FOUR official languages: German (65%), French (18%), Italian (10%), and Romansh (an obscure Latin dialect - 1%). There are 7.6 million people and it's a similar latitude to Quebec, Canada. It's 16,000 square miles, about twice the size of New Jersey or half the size of South Carolina. Switzerland's white cross on a distinctively square red background may have been the inspiration for the red-on-white symbol of the International Red Cross. It's one of the only two recognized flags that are perfect squares (the other being the Vatican City). The average Swiss eats 22 POUNDS of chocolate a year holy moly! There's high taxation, ample social services, and liberal drug policies. You can literally buy syringes from vending machines on street corners. There are 26 cantons, similar to the states, as each canton is semi-independent and the Swiss wrangle with just how much autonomy to allow cantons. With the exception of the Protestant Reformation Swiss history has been pretty quiet - and that's just how the Swiss like it! They love their neutrality and stayed out of both world wars. And that's Switzerland at a glance!

We made it to Monica's Bern Apartment that we found on - you guessed it - airbnb. 
 It was about $125 a night, which was a reasonable price after doing some research. We saved HUNDREDS of dollars this trip by bringing our own food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I know part of really getting to know a country is to try their local cuisine, but Fox and Jane are so picky anyway and we simply can't afford to eat out 3 meals a day, so bringing our own food is our best option and we actually still had money leftover this trip! Winning!
The view from the bedroom is unbeatable. I mean, WOW!
The best part? Monica baked us a loaves of bread! We woke up in the morning and there was a bag of the most delicious, moist, chewy bread hanging on the door. The next night we put the bag back on the door and when Jane had a crying fit in the middle of the night Chris took care of her then came back, stood in the doorway and said, "Santa came!" It really did feel like Christmas hanging the stocking/bag up and getting it filled with treats!
I could hear a "ting ting ting" all night and woke the next morning to see a heard of sheep in the neighbor's pasture. 
We started whistling at them and they came a'runnin! I got it on camera :)
And then I caught the little baby sheep sneaking a peek at us. Adorbs.
Then they went about their business, grazing all the livelong day. I love the "ting ting ting" of their bells!
GORGEOUS bright blue shutters paired with the pink and rose red and purple flowers and greenery. Oh so pretty.
Time to delve into our adventure of walking through Bern!
Stately but human, classy but fun, the Swiss capital of Bern gives you the most delightful look at urban Switzerland. Bern's top attractions are window-shopping and people-watching in lively market squares and along streets lined with cozy, covered arcades. Everywhere we looked we could see flags, pictures, statues, even real life bears - the symbol of the local mascot. The city, founded in 1191, has managed to avoid war damage and hasn't burned down since a great fire swept through in 1405. After the fire wooden buildings were no longer allowed and Bern took on its gray-green sandstone complexion (with the stones quarried from nearby). In 1353 Bern became the eighth canton to join the Swiss Federation. Its power ended with the conquest by Napoleon in 1798, but in 1848 Bern rose again to become the Swiss capital. Today the German-speaking town has about 123,000 people and its pointy towers, sandstone buildings, and colorful fountains make Bern one of Europe's finest surviving medieval towns. 

We drove a few minutes to a parking garage at the train station and started our Rick Steves walk!
Outside the train station is the big square called Bahnhofplatz. The old town was sealed off here with a fortified wall which was replaced in the 19th century by the train station. Today all city buses and trams come and go from the station. Bern's vision is to create a carless city. The city was ripped up and new tram lines were put in for the Euro 2008 soccer tournament. And the "Bern rollt" program (government-subsidized and staffed by otherwise hard-to-employ people) provides free loaner bikes and even skateboards. 

Across the square stands the Holy Ghost Church. Under major construction. We noticed the gray-green Bernese sandstone used for pretty much all the buildings. Because this stone is porous and easily eroded by water, Bern's buildings are designed with characteristic oversized eves. All buildings are made with this same stone to maintain architectural harmony, as dictated by city law. 
We walked across the Bahnhofplatz and turned left onto Spitalgasse - it marks the start of one long street with four names. This street rambles downhill through the heart of town.
We came to the first of Bern's 11 historic fountains - the Bagpiper (top left). These colorful 16th-century fountains are Bern's trademark. The city commissioned them for many reasons: to brighten the cityscape of gray buildings, to show off the town's wealth, and to remind citizens of great local heroes and events. 
We walked to the Bärenplatz which was filled with tents cuz there was some race going on. We meandered through the droves of women (no men allowed in this race apparently!) and found the Prison Tower - once part of the city wall. Renovated from 1641 to 1644, the tower served as a prison until 1897. The hand on the clock really is a hand and it was built in a slower-paced era when just an hour hand told time precisely enough. | A turret I found cool-lookin'.
50 yards to the left is the Dutch Tower. Swiss soldiers were famous mercenaries who fought all over Europe. Returning from a battle in the Netherlands the soldiers brought back the habit of smoking. But smoking was forbidden within the city walls of Bern so they hid in this tower to smoke secretly. Locals joke that now that a new modern-day smoking ban has come to Bern this tower may regain its historic function. | A fountain in front of the Dutch Tower.
At the far end of the square is a controversial and modern mossy fountain by the Swiss surrealist Meret Oppenheim. Made in 1893 it symbolizes growth and life and is supposed to demonstrate communication between an object of art and the beholder... deep stuff man. Locals hate it and want it torn down, the politicians want it to stay so it stays. For now.
Another look at the Mossy Fountain and a tower of flowers.
The grand building beyond the fountain was once the city orphanage and is now the police station.
Pretties from our walk. We love Bern :)
At the end of Bärenplatz is the Parliament. The woman at the top of the building represents political independence, the one on the left stands for freedom, and the one on the right symbolizes peace. The fine granite plaza in front (built in 2004 to replace a parking lot) is a favorite spot for demonstrations and markets - taken over today by the race shenanigans.
Then we signed up for a secret Swiss bank account. Not really, but it's true that a huge part of the Swiss economy is based on providing a safe and secret place for wealthy people from around the world to stash their money.
We walked through the arches of the Parliament to the back and onto the terraces. 
Looking up at the Parliament. 
Oh wow what a view! Straight across in the middle is where our apartment is.
Evans family on Sunday June 15th 2014 in Bern, Switzerland!
Views from the terraces. On a clear day (which it looks like it was, but there was haze out in the distance, bummer) you can see the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau - the highest peaks in the Berner Oberland.
I need to get flowers for our windowsills STAT because I LOVE the color it adds!
We walked a few hundred yards and looked back at the Parliament.
We crossed halfway over the Kirchenfeld Bridge for great river views.
Next we walked to the Kornhausplatz - this square is ornamented by the colorful fountain of an Ogre (chindlifresser, "child-eater). Two legends try to explain this gruesome sight - it's either a folkloric representation of the Greek god Chronos, or a figure that was intended to scare children off the former city walls lol.
We walked past the Ogre fountain and saw more statues and more bears. 
We walked onto the Kornhausbrüke to see what we could see.
This is what we saw! Aqua rivers and amazing houses with lots of plants growing everywhere.
City Theater on Kornhausplatz. I wish my local theater looked like this!
Wrought iron eve. 
Bears bears bears everywhere! How cute are these little guys hanging off the Best Western Hotel windowsills? HA!
Back on Kornhausplatz we stepped under the clock tower where Marktgasse becomes Kramgasse and watched hundreds of runners, well, run by!
Bern's famous clock tower was part of the original wall marking the first gate to the city (c. 1250). The clock, which dates back to 1530, performs four minutes before each hour. The happy jester comes to life, Father Time turns his hourglass, the rooster crows, and the golden man on top hammers the bell. We were there right in time to see it go off. Apparently this nonevent was considered quite entertaining five centuries ago...
Under the clock are the old regional measurements (Swiss foot, the bigger Bernese foot, and the Elle, or "elbow," which was the distance from the elbow to the fingertip) and the official meter and double meter. It took a strong man like Napoleon to bring consistency to measurements in Europe and he replaced the many goofy feet and elbows of medieval Europe with the metric system used today.
Art in the archways above the old measurements under the clock tower. 

My favorite street in Bern: Kramgasse. Just look at all those flags!
Bern has wide streets like this one, but not many true squares. In the Middle Ages craftsmen exhibited their goods on the sidewalks under simple roofs. Eventually these were formalized, buildings were expanded, and arcades evolved. Today, though the arcades are privately owned, owners must keep them clean and allow public access. 
Most shops are underneath the arcades but don't miss the ones in the cellars that you can access only from the main road. The cellars, marked by old-time hatches, were originally for storing potatoes and coal, and later, wine (which Napoleon's soldiers stole). Most everything was closed because it was Sunday.
The apartment Einstein (ever heard of him?!) called home between 1903 and 1905, during some of his happiest and most productive years is now the Einstein House Museum. It was actually open, but we just didn't have the energy to go in.
How cool to see where THE Einstein lived for a bit though!
View of Kramgasse from the other direction. 
20 yards past Einstein's house and past a fountain of Samson, we turned right through the narrow Münsteräasschen to the Bern Cathedral. 
Since it was Sunday it wasn't open until about 11:30 or something, a couple hours away, so we simply walked around it. Rick says the interior is very plain so we didn't feel too bad about not going in...
There's a shaded park on the side of the cathedral and while Janey napped in Chris's arms Fox had the time of his life riding horses and playing in the sandbox. 
The terrace overlooking the river by the cathedral has security nets below - this platform used to be the favorite place for suicides - to the terror of the people living below. There were signs about depression and self-help all around these walls.
We saw this church through the alley and made a detour off the official city walk to see it. Closed for Sunday worship but pretty from the outside!
Looking straight up.
Right next to that church is the Rathaus - city hall. Same green stone as all the other buildings!
The next few pictures are some of my favorite of Bern.
The buildings curve!
Love the sloped roofs.
Too cute.
Then we crossed the Nydegg Bridge.
Holy moly that building is so quaint and I love the row of roses!
We reached the end of the walk and the main attraction: the Bear Park!
The symbol of Bern is the bear and some lively ones frolic along this terraced hillside to the delight of locals and tourists alike! Since 1857 Bern has been housing its bears in big, barren, concrete pits. 
But thanks to the agitation of the BLM (Bear Liberation Movement) a reluctant city government was forced to replace the pits with posher digs.
We saw a bear! It made my day! A bear in Bern!

From here it was an easy 10 minute bus ride back to the train station where we found our car and drove back to our apartment. What a fun filled day! 

Next stop: the cutest town in the ENTIRE WORLD - Murten, Switzerland! 


  1. Awesome recap! It was a beautiful day in Bern!

  2. I'm sorry these travel posts take so long to write, but I thought I'd better leave a comment: thank you!
    I love reading about your '98, my husband and I took a trip to Europe and visited just a small bit of the countries that you're experiencing...and then we had our son in '99, so that put a stop to our faraway travels. So I really admire the fact that you've got the two young'uns and are visiting these locales. LOVE the many photos you include in the post. Thanks for the effort - I for one definitely appreciate you! :)

  3. I want to thank you for taking the time to write these ... I just love your travel posts ... I know I will never be able to visit these places ... so it is fun and exciting to see them through your eyes! This country is GORGEOUS! LOVING all the photos and I want a slice of that bread!! YUM!!!!!

  4. I can't believe you saw a bear!! That is so cool! And that water looks so blue!

  5. Nana almost killed me in Bern. She claimed to remember her high school German and told me that a sign by one of those fountains meant "clean drinking water." It didn't. Luckily, a Bernese man stopped me in time. Watch out in October when they come visit you!


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