My journey to Switzerland took place in the no man’s land between Winter and Spring. Although making for discounted travel fares, preparing for the varying climate with just a backpack was a headache. My route was to take me from North to South and back again, ascending and descending a few thousand feet with each stop of the train.
My girlfriend Jess and I had long wanted to see a country by rail and so arranged return flights to Basel and a Swiss Pass each, entitling us to unlimited rail travel throughout the country across 10 days, with the exception of some privately owned stretches of track. We planned a vertical route down the face of Switzerland, from Basel in the north to the picturesque Alpine town of Zermatt in the south.
After touching down in Basel we made immediate use of the Swiss Pass with a southern train to the capital city. Bern’s central station lands you right in the medieval core of the Old City, where any one of a handful of cobbled streets, charmingly uneven underfoot, will lead you through a city rich in history.
The city suffered a major blaze in the 1400’s, losing all of it’s wooden buildings which were eventually replaced with the sandstone structures that have grown to be characteristic of Bern. All 6 kilometres of the Old City’s arcades feature covered walkways carved out of the building faces, sheltering pedestrian shoppers and tourists from the elements year round.
Wandering it’s tunnelling promenades leads you to many treasures of the Old City; Albert Einstein took residence in an apartment here as he published the papers that contributed substantially to modern physics and the understanding of time, space and mass. An elaborate 13th-century clock tower, the Zytglogge (meaning ‘time bell’) rings throughout the city and hosts hourly puppet performances protruding it’s face.
Eleven renaissance era statues atop fountains are scattered across the city like Easter eggs. Mostly 16th-century depictions of flag-pole bearing, weapon-wielding bears and religious figures, each statue is entirely unique. Perhaps most interesting of which is the Kindlifresserbrunnen, an ogre devouring children from a sack at his side, said to represent a Greek god that frightens disobedient children.
And my favourite of all of Bern’s treasures, the Münster. An impressive 15th-century cathedral that champions the centre of the city and it’s skyline, spoiling you with exquisite architecture at it’s root and unobstructed views from atop it’s tower.
The horseshoe-shaped Aare River wraps it’s arms around the Old City and it seemed as though any bridge we crossed to it’s suburban banks elevated us to inspiring viewpoints of the historic dwelling. Most notably, the Rosengarten (Rose Garden) across the Lower Gate Bridge to the east provides a generous view of the city from the apex of the bending river.
Bern is as pleasant as European cities come, with it’s clear and cleansing river waters flowing alongside streets soaked in stories from a time gone by. Very comfortably experienced in just two days, our next stop was Interlaken and the Jungfrau Region.