Thursday, September 18, 2008
Bern Switzerland...Bear pits, bicycles, and beauty
Sleep is such a wonderful thing. The past few weeks of hectic travel caught up to us, and luckily we were able to catch up on some much needed sleep. About 12 hours worth to be precise. We awoke around 1130 am, sleeping through breakfast, but that was fine by us. First on the agenda was laundry. Thankfully our hostel had a washer and drier, and we were at the end of our weeks worth of clothes. After changing euros for swiss francs from a nice man in line at the lunch room, we were set. After showering and changing into clean clothes we were off to explore.
We've found it a bit chilly here in Bern, probably due to the elevation, as we are just north of the Swiss Alps. Bern is a stunningly beautiful city. Lush green hills, old world charm, and the river running through town is the brightest, light turquoise color you could imagine. Our hostel is situated right on the river, at the bottom of a hill/cliff below the main part of town, which means we must walk up a very steep grade. There is also a gondola you can take up it, but it wasn't in operation, which disappointed Heather as she wanted to take the machine that "does the walking for us". First stop after trekking up the hill was the train station to make sure we have seats on the train to Munich. The ticket clerk was very friendly, chatting to us about oktoberfest and how busy the trains get to Munich during that time. With seats reserved for us, it was off to explore.
We were quite hungry at this point as it was almost 3pm, so we wandered into the local coop supermarket. Actually it was more than a supermarket, on the main level it was a department type store, with the supermarket on the lower level. This was the largest supermarket we'd been to yet in Europe, as most were just small corner market type places or specialty shops like bakery's. First part of the store was a large deli area with hot prepared food, all of which area awesome. The rest of the store was set up like any other supermarket. First stop was the cheese for some of that famous swiss cheese. Heather wanted to get a few slices of a few different varieties of cheese so she stood in line. We should add when you think swiss cheese in the states you think of white sliced cheese with holes right? Well at this cheese deli in the store, there were maybe 30 varieties of swiss white cheese. The older woman slicing the cheese didn't speak much english so was having a hard time understanding Heather, when an older gentleman in line offered to help. He was very kind and happy to assist Heather in her quest for sampling swiss cheeses, and he picked out 3 types that we would enjoy. We were very grateful for his help and thanked him, and he wished us a good day. Along with the cheese we got a bag of crackers, an apple, a small chunk of wonderful bread, a bar of swiss chocolate, a hot noodle/potato dish, and what we would describe as a small meatloaf. We wandered into the train station to find a place to eat it, as the station here is like a shopping mall inside, tons of stores and restaurants/food courts. First food court we sat in we didn't realize belonged to one of the fast food chains, and we were kindly told "picnic no good!" We wanted to say our picnic was very good, but we got the hint and packed up and moved on to another place. On the way past the main schedule, there were people handing out free ice cream cones!! yes free!! We each scored a free strawberry ice cream cone, which we had to eat before the rest of our meal in fear of it melting. We settled down in the waiting room for trains and finished our delicious first meal in Switzerland.
After eating we started walking down some of the cobblestone streets, and came upon one of a few places where you can rent bicycles for free, you just need to leave a deposit. We thought this would be a great was to get around so we signed the forms and peddled away. We took a brief stop at the Munster Cathedral, but it was just closing up so we didn't make it inside. Up the road aways was the infamous Bern bear pits. The brown bear is the official animal of Bern, so they have 5 or so in a mini zoo like setting on the edge of town. Only one was outside walking around while we were there, so we snapped a couple pictures of him. We wondered to ourselves if all of them got to growling and making bear noises if the whole town could hear them? We peddled off to return our bikes and on to starbucks to use the internet. On the walk back from starbucks we ran into some kids playing in one of the many fountains. They were taking turns running through, and were absolutly soaked. We were sure they would get hypothermia soon. We also came upon 2 older men playing chess on a large chess board made of stone on the edge of a market square. There was a good crowd gathered around them, watching them move the big wooden pieces. One of the men was quite colorful and made funny expressions every time his opponent made a move. Upon arriving back at the hostel room we found we had a new roommate. The Neighbors cat had taken up residence on Heather's bed. We weren't sure at first if our roommates had snuck it in, or if it came in the open window, so we walked to reception to inquire. He told us it was the neighbors cat after giving a brief discription, so bak to the room we went where we turned him loose outside. We took it easy that evening, charlie took a nap while Heather read and played online. About 9pm we wandered off in search of dinner, and were guided to a small pizza place by the hostel staff.
It was a cozy little neighborhood type place where there were maybe a dozen people watching a football (soccer) game on tv. We sat down in one of the 8 or so tables and ordered a beer and some pasta. The 2 men working there must have been father/son, and we're super nice and great hosts. Soon after we sat down the place really filled up, there were about 20 people in there and it seemed packed. All there to watch the game, kind of cool we thought as it was like being in an place in the twin cities with everyone there rooting on the twins or the wild. About 10:30 we were quite tired and walked a the couple blocks back to the hostel in search of one more good nights sleep, with intentions of getting up for breakfast and heading to Interlaken for a day trip.