Travel Blog of the Gaps
Our first Swiss Saturday tended more toward damp than dry, but no matter the weather, our plan was to bid Zürich "auf Wiedersehen." By this point, it was a breeze navigating the Number 14 tram line that carried us and our luggage to the Hauptbahnhof (main railway station). So within an hour the hyper-efficient Swiss rail system was whisking us along to Bern, the Swiss capital city. (Switzerland's capital is also spelled "Berne," which is preferred by French and Italian speakers. The Swiss have managed to blend a cohesive culture out of a population that can speak any of 4 languages: German (73%25), French (21%25), Italian (4%25) and Romansh (<1%25). Public address announcements contain mixes of at least a couple of these languages, along with English in most instances.) In contrast to Zürich's mere nod toward history, Bern seems to fully embrace it with delight and whimsy. Bern is walkably small, contains millennium-old architecture, enormous town clocks, miles of covered walkways to shield shoppers from the elements, and countless quaint touches (such as statue-crested fountains, an over-sized cathedral tower, and an improbable bear park). Bern also has a well-functioning tram system, and so in spite of the rain it was easy to make our way from our hotel to the downtown's main business district. There we found not only the open-air market, but also a truffle festival. Truffles are ugly, little, black fungus/mushroom balls that are highly valued in cooking. And since we are in Switzerland, the prices for the subterranean morsels were astronomical. After eyeing the fungus, we made our way back up toward the Swiss Bundeshaus (house of parliament), where we found a large labor union protest underway. It was a bit noisy, but no more disruptive to daily life than any large crowd would be. It even seemed that the local restaurants appreciated the added business. As the clouds became a bit more merciful, we wandered along Kramgasse, which literally translates as "The street where you can find stuff." The cobblestone market street is graced with fountains, each of which is topped by a medieval statue, each a bit more macabre than the last. At the end of the street, adjacent to the river, sits a little chapel, the Nydeggkirche. We discovered a concert was planned for that evening, and so we returned later to hear a first-rate chamber orchestra play mostly Tchaikovsky pieces. On Sunday, grateful for somewhat bluer skies, we further explored the ancient city, and then climbed the 344 steps to the top of the Cathedral's bell tower. The view was spectacular, and yet the greatest achievement was getting our more acrophobic traveling companions to skitter up the stairs for the chance to take it in. We had only allotted ourselves one night in Bern, but by juggling our train schedule, we were able to stretch the second day late into the afternoon. Then we alighted the railways again, this time to travel into the Alps. For those tales, you will have to come back later.