This was our very first trip out of Germany hence our spirits were just soaring in anticipation. I’ve considered Switzerland when I was making a list of places I wanted to visit in Europe (with my eyes quite fixated on its capital, Bern for its impressive medieval architecture) and so when opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t have been more thrilled!
One of our colleagues who had a best friend living in Bern invited us to spend the weekend in the scenic Swiss Capital. This, unlike our Berlin trip that was pretty much history-loaded, was more like a weekend getaway meant to visit our colleague’s friends, unwind and get a peek of the city where my favourite Toblerone is made. The trip was quite anti-climactic but the city was certainly a revelation.
Bern as you know is the capital of Switzerland and the seat of the Bundeshaus (Houses of Parliament). It was founded by Berchtold V of Zähringen in 1191 on and around the River Aare and he allegedly named it after a bear (Bar in German) he had killed.
From Frankfurt Hauptbahnof it took us about four hours by train. We left at around midnight so it was still dark (and cold!) when we reached Bern Bahnof. We were met at the station by “Basti”, our colleague’s kind Swiss husband who took us to Hostelling International Hostel (a youth hostel just about 1 km from the central station) which will be our camp for the weekend. It was our very first hostel experience and so I had mixed feelings about it (one part excited about finally living my backpacker dreams; the other part a bit uneasy at the thought of sharing a single room with a dozen of strangers!)
I remember when we got to the hostel, the lights were out and people where in deep sleep so we had to grope in the dark to find our beds. They were all double decks and I, being slim then and therefore lighter had to be the one to climb to the top. The beds were positioned so close to each other that it felt like I was practically sharing a bed with a complete stranger. Spooky!
Then our bathroom encounter. My friends and I were wrapped in our towels and were quite careful with changing clothes and all when suddenly a middle-aged European woman just undressed before us. As in naked, nude, totally exposed! You could see culture shock written all over our faces! It was embarrassing, but we just had to laugh it off.
The hostel wasn’t bad. It helped that it was conveniently located near the old town and had a wonderful view of the River Aare. For 33 francs, our stay already included a simple breakfast of cereals and bread which is better than nothing really. I loved the patio garden where we had our breakfast while breathing in the fresh, sterilized Swiss air.
My first impression of Bern was actually formed upon my first sight of the River Aare as I took a stroll towards the river banks after breakfast. From where I come from, rivers are supposed to be brown, polluted and stinky, but I was absolutely dazed staring into the clean, clear, emerald green waters of Switzerland’s longest river, the River Aare. It’s no surprise that it’s one of the top 10 cleanest cities in the world, and among the most liveable too. I found this city very serene and the people very temperate.
From our hostel we headed to the old town to meet our colleague’s friends who would take us to see the main attractions and also do some souvenir shopping as we were told that the shops are closed on Sundays. As we moved along the city center, the picturesque old town came to view. No wonder it earned itself a place as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s incredible how over the centuries it has managed to preserve its medieval townscape, from the sandstone buildings, the fountains, the clock towers and cobbled lanes. It feels like I have travelled back in time! Though the transport system in the city is very good, it’s still best to explore the old town by foot.
On the way to the old town we passed by the House of Parliament but unfortunately it was going through some kind of construction works so it was barricaded. There was a flower /veggie market at the square (usually held on Tuesdays & Saturdays) which caught my fancy. The flowers in all their vivid colors were just lovely!
From the square we walked the cobblestone lanes towards the shopping arcades referred to by locals as “Lauben” which stretch to 6 km and makes them one of the longest covered shopping promenades in Europe! Souvenir shopping! Swiss knives, magnets, mugs, postcards, plates for my collection and Lindtt chocolates! Precious!
Further north stands one of the most popular sights in Bern, the medieval clock tower called the Zytglogge (Bernese German for Time Bell) tower that has puppets that pop out before the hour and perform a little skit.
We passed by the famous house of Albert Einstein who lived in Bern at the start of the 20th century.
Münster Cathedral is Bern’s 15th century Gothic cathedral, topped by a 100 meter tall tower making it the highest Gothic cathedral in Switzerland.
The Münster-Terrasse, a square in front of the Cathedral, has been a famous meeting place over the centuries. The Munster gives a breathtaking panorama of the the Aare River and the old town.
The Bärengraben (The Bear Pit) houses live bears since the 16th century. Cute, furry bears I wish I can hug them! There’s also a souvenir shop nearby.
Our kind hosts invited us to their house for lunch where they served halabos na hipon and sinigang, two classic Filipino dish that were very good and totally filling! In the afternoon we met the rest of the Filipino community in the public area of the River Aare, just a few minutes from our hostel. It was Julius’ birthday (our colleague’s best friend’s friend) and he was having a sort of a barbecue by the river. I couldn’t stop being amazed at how the river managed to become sooooo clean and pristine. It was frigid too (as it comes from glaciers), so like a very big freezer, the beers and sodas were just left in the water to cool. I wonder how the locals are able to swim in there.
At night beer flowed, fireworks got us all fired up and the moon added drama to the night sky. Interesting experience, that’s all I’m allowed to say. =)
We spent the next morning at the Gurten, a hill near Wabern which is the already at the southern suburbs of Bern via the funicular called Gurtenbahn. It offers a magnificent view of the city.
And need I mention, photographic opportunities galore!
From here we head back to the train station to wait for our ride home. Then it was time to say goodbye to a city full of charm and beauty. Bern, baby, Bern!