Quite like an auntie you’re a little in awe of – she’s beautiful, smells nice, dresses very elegantly and speaks in a tone of hushed and genteel eloquence. In front of her you feel a bit of a grimy ragamuffin.
Bern is not far from Zurich (but then, what is?) – about 50 minutes by train. It’s located in the “middle land” area of Switzerland, and the journey there takes you through expansive countryside of softly rolling hills and clear rivers with pretty castle-houses on their banks. Lonely Planet explains how Bern is akin to Canberra, in that it was chosen to be capital as a compromise between two other big cities, Geneva and Zurich. Basically, it keeps everyone happy, the French- and German-speaking Swiss.
It’s small. You can walk everywhere. And because, despite a harried boyfriend’s attempts to teach me to read maps, I still can’t tell north from south (and I’m not just metaphorically speaking), I go by instinct. Also, somehow, you can always tell which way the town centre is just by studying the buildings. It’s an art I’ve perfected, I tell you. Along the way we passed random spectacular structures like this ~
Down the road and around the corner is the parliament complex – probably the friendliest in the world. Instead of check posts, big, mean barriers and men skulking around with guns, they have this ~
A fountain that springs from the ground at random. These kids and their mum were playing a game – trying to run through without getting soaked. They didn’t succeed and were all the more thrilled for it! Bern is a happy place – I’m not surprised to learn that it’s ranked among the world’s top ten cities for the best quality of life.
I’m glad Brigett wasn’t there – she’s arachnophobic, and to the left of the parliament buildings was a Louise Bourgeois installation.
These creatures have been installed all over the world – Tate Modern, Guggenheim, Mori and Canada’s National Gallery – and it was pretty cool to see one here. They are huge, but oddly enough not intimidating or scary. Perhaps that’s because they’re meant to be symbols of nurturing and protection. I like that there’s one in Bern.
A walk by the river soon takes you to the medieval town centre, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is where is hits you. Despite its chic contemporariness and suave shops, Bern is wonderfully ancient. There’s a cluster of interesting places to see in and around this street – the clock tower with the moving puppets (I think the one at Leicester Square is modelled on this one), St Peter & Paul church, and Albert Einstein’s house. The great man lived in Bern for many years, and this is where he published the Annus Mirabilis papers in 1905, which (and I quote Wikipedia) contributed substantially to the foundation of modern physics and changed views on space, time and matter.
Yes, the touristy thing was done – there were rooms to wander through, pictures to be gaped at and reams of information on Einstein’s life to go through. All very detailed – yet at the end what remains with me is that he wasn’t very nice to his wife. Also, I’m more intrigued by the story of his illegitimate daughter Lieserl, who is said to have been given up for adoption and nobody knows what became of her. Now, that’s the stuff novels are made on.
A casual trundle further and suddenly you’re ambushed by the “Munster”, a 15th-century Gothic cathedral, the tallest in Switzerland. It does exactly what its meant to do – inspire awe.
Rows and rows of wooden pews, stunning stained glass windows (dating from the 1500s), and a counter to burn little candles. I didn’t take any pictures inside, but here’s a sample of the choir performance that took place out of the blue – a group of men and women in uniform trooped in, performed sublimely and then trooped out.
In true perfect-day fashion, when hunger pangs struck, I found, by sheer chance, an outdoor terrace restaurant hidden by overhanging trees. The views to the left were of the River Aare, the colour of mermaid tails, with a tantalising glimpse of the Alps in the distance.
Then home to the French Open finals, where Nadal won. I’m certain I was the only person in Switzerland cheering for him.
And because I have no cow stories, here’s something to keep you going until I find something suitably bovine ~