Bern in Brief

Bugger!  Bugger bugger bugger bugger. I had a whole post on Bern and Lucerne but then I deleted it before posting –aaaaaaaaagh.  And it was really good, it started off with me sitting in a rose garden and being really poetic about the city enfolding before me, there were bits about gilded domes and spires and everything!

Okay here goes, Bern in brief!

Or in fact it should really be Briefly in Bern and Lucerne, since I spent just over 24 hours in the two cities combined.

Arriving in Bern was different to arriving in Geneva.  It felt much larger, much busier, and it also felt like entering a different country because this is very much a German area of Switzerland, all the signs are in German, whereas in Geneva it’s all in French, and the whole city had a more German industrial feel to it.

I wasn’t heavily bothered about directions that much when it came to getting to the hostel (it looked like an easy trip down a straight road on the map at the station ), and my lack of concern really showed since I arrived in  Bern during daylight, yet arrived at the hostel – half a mile away – in utter darkness.  The thing is though, wandering through Bern’s medieval old town was stunningly beautiful in the dark.  It felt safe, so really why spoil the splendid opportunity for nocturne ramblings for something as mediocre as arriving at your destination?

The streets are wide cobble stones, home to very expensive shops, a plethora of beautiful, although somewhat gaudily painted, fountains; one of the most imposing cathedrals I’ve ever seen (very spikey.. wouldn’t want to get on that priests’ bad side) and the zigglocke – a massive clock that shows not only the time but also the spinning of celestial bodies.  It’s also rather loud, and extremely close to where I bedded down for the night.

The following day I retraced my night time wandering steps, and then went up and beyond into a rose garden.  The rose garden is at the top of Bern, literally at the top, I walked up a very steep path, plonked myself in a lone chair on a lawn, regained my breath, admired the view, and then thought “Hang on a mo, how did all those girls in wedding dresses and heels get up here?”  Harrumph there must be nice smooth roads somewhere leading up here!

Aside from impressive buildings and a crystal clear river, the thing that sticks in my mind the most is the Bern Bear Park.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that Bern means Bear, and that there be bears in them there hills around Bern, because there are bears all over Bern.  Carved into doors, on flags, statues tucked away in little alcoves, they’re everywhere.

A manageable walking distance from the city centre, Bear Park consists of two large, sunken, circular stone pits each measuring about 40 feet in diameter, with two or three entrances into the walls, that are joined in the centre by a tall, slender house.   In one pit there were several statues of bears carved from tree trunks, in the other pit there was a shallow rectangular pool and an asymmetric stone pyramid, that was hollow with several small entrances.  It was covered in vegetation that had been placed there rather than going there, and a large pine tree trunk.  It took me a few minutes and some careful observation of signs with photographs to realize that actual, live bears live there.  I didn’t see any so I assume they’re starting hibernation, but there were plenty of photographs of cute furry critter with big claws splashing about in the water and basking in the sun.  I am really hoping that these bears are not expressly kept here for tourist purposes, and that it’s actually a rescue centre and the bears that end up there are lucky and happy…

Anyway, moving swiftly on whilst I’m still feeling optimistic.  After the Bear Park, I decided to take the train to Lucerne (Luzern as they say in Suisse) to buy some chocolate and watch the sunset, as one does.

The first part of the plan worked really well, delicious Swiss chocolate made in huge slabs that you can point to and mime with your hands how much of the slab you want, hasar!

The sunset stroll also started well enough, I wandered into a function at the opera house, used their bathrooms and wandered out again; had a close up look at the water tower in the lake that’s been used as both a treasure storage and a gaol; and then my journey took me past a pub where it so happened that the South Africa v Argentina game was playing, and the entire Luzern rugby club was watching the game in there.  It wold have been rude not to go in and see the score, and impolite not to stay for the rest of the game.  Ruder still to not have stayed another four hours and watched the magnificent game between Wales and England, resulting in a nail-bitingly-close-to-the-finish WIN for Wales, 28-25.  Get in there!

Because of this experience Luzern will forever have a special place in my heart.  I may not have seen the hotel de ville, and all the other important features, but I will remember it always as a happy place, where I lost my voice screaming at the TV.  I did do a little bit of sightseeing after the game finished, I traipsed up side streets to see The Crying Lion.  It’s a war memorial sculpture, and it tugs right at your core.  It’s an enormous, way larger than life, lion lying in a cave and appears to have been hewn from a single mass of rock rising out of a pond.  To put it simply, the lion looks heart-broken.  Somebody famous – not famous enough for me to remember them unfortunately – has been quoted as saying it’s the saddest piece of rock in the world.

Around about the time that I was getting emotional in the dark over a piece of stone, I heard a clock striking and realized I had better move it if I wanted to make the train to Basel.  I would have loved to stay the night in Lucerne, but unfortunately lots of other people feel the same way, and there was no room at the inn.  So I had hit upon the plan of getting the midnight train to Basel, where I would arrive at 2 am, and hopefully find a large, efficient, warm station with 24 hour toilets and a coffee shop.

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