For dinner, Olivier took me to a touristy place in downtown Bern where they serve all kinds of traditional Swiss dishes. The whole place smelled strongly of cheese. They have a huge variety of this potato dish which consists of something like hash browns topped with any number of things. I decided to try it out so I ordered a portion of Mac and cheese hash browns. I thought I was hungry but that was so heavy that I couldn’t even come close to eating it all! I had to take some to go.
On Friday, I explored the Swiss capital of Bern. Olivier had to go in to work early so I was downtown at 8am. The first thing I did was make my way to the Bear Pits, the city’s main attraction. Bern has kept bears in the city since the 16th century, when the founder of the city said that he would name the city after whichever animal he hunted and killed first. Evidently, it was a bear and so the town was named Bern after the bear and has kept bears around to remind everyone of the city’s start. These days the Bear Pits are very elaborate and much nicer than they were back in the days when they truly were just pits. The bears location has been moved to the outskirts of the town right along the river. There are 4 bears – a mom, a dad, and two kids that are about 2 years old now. They are all adorable! They have a huge habitat along the river bank which has lots of trees and foliage, with water that they can go swimming too. There’s also the “bear pit” where their feeding takes place which is essentially a dirt pit with some rocks and trees. At around 8:30 I watched the dad bear go to the edge of their habitat and begin banging on a metal door. He seemed really agitated and I was wondering why he was charging that door. A couple of minutes later, the door opened and the mom and dad bear ran through into the bear pit, where their breakfast was waiting for them. A huge amount of fruits, veggies, fish, and honey was scattered throughout the bear pit for the bears to devour. It was fun to watch. The bears went on eating and I decided to hike up 10 minutes or so from the bear pit to the panoramic rose garden, which offers a great view out over Bern. You basically have to walk straight uphill to reach it, but at the top there is a variety of roses and benches to sit and take in the beautiful view of the city. Since I was up so early, there had been no one at the bear pit other than the staff, and as I looked out over Bern, the streets were fairly empty – but by 10 they were crowded and bustling with people!
I went back downhill and stopped for a cappuccino at the Brasserie Bargarden, which according to Frommer’s is a great people watching spot, and it was. Then I looked back at the bears, who had finished their breakfast and were roaming around again. It was almost 10 so I walked into the center if town to the astronomical clock – which looks and functions really similar to the one in Prague. On the hour, there is a parade of wooden figurines that move around. The description I had read was much more spectacular than the real thing; which really wasn’t exciting at all. Next I walked back across the river and into town to visit the Munster, Bern’s cathedral. It’s single tower makes an imposing facade and the interior was beautiful as well. I thought that the most interesting element of the cathedrals interior was the ceiling, which had black scrawling decorations which reminded me of henna tattoos. The scrawling black formed crosses and flowers and other decorative designs, and I thought it was really unique for a church ceiling. Since I had just been up to the panoramic rose garden, I decided not to pay to climb up the tower at the church and instead I just rested for a few minutes in the garden overlooking the river next to the church. Next I headed across the river again to the Bern zoo. I’d been wanting to go to the zoo for a while – but zoos in Europe are really expensive! Although almost everything else in Bern was expensive, the zoo and the museums were not with my student discount. For five euros I spent an hour and a half checking out the flamingos, the European buffalo, the Russian bears, the seals, the moose, the wildcats, and more! Bern’s zoo is not very big (there’s no giraffes or elephants or anything like that), but the animals that they do have enjoy very nice habitats and the zoo is super interactive so you are sure to learn about the animals you visit. On a random note, who decided that flamingos should be at the front of every zoo? Every zoo I have been to all over the world features flamingos at the entrance. I wonder why?
After the zoo, I hiked up a bit towards Bern’s main hill, but I was sore from hiking in the Alps the day before so I decided not to hike the hill since the views couldn’t compare anyways. I hiked up for a bit until I got to a bench where I sat with a good view of the city to eat my peanut butter and jelly, apple, and chocolate. After lunch, I went back into the city and decided to go to the Fine Arts Museum. On the way there, I passed by several of Bern’s famous fountains, including the ogre fountain which depicts a large man eating a small child. Olivier told me that his mom used to say if he was a bad boy then he would be eaten by the ogre too! The ogre fountain is on Kornhaus Square, and that’s where I stopped for an Eisser Swiss beer and to people watch before heading to the museum. At the museum, I bought a standard entrance ticket so there were 3 main exhibitions which I could explore. I started out seeing the Swiss art, which mostly depicted idyllic scenes from the Alps; mountains covered with glaciers, cows lounging by a lake, bubbling streams. I liked seeing the Swiss art because it all reminded me of the views I had on my hike the day before. The museum also had some standard old paintings, but nothing too exciting. There were several more recent pairings including works by Picasso, Kirchner, and Chagall. Picasso and Kirchner are not my favorite, however the museum had a Mediterranean landscape by Picasso that was colorful and fun. Chagall is eccentric, but I like his flower paintings. To balance out all of that crazyness, the museum also has works by Monet, Sisley, and Pissaro – mostly Impressionist landscapes with light colors and light brush strokes, a lot more pleasant on the eyes and the mind.
All in all, I only spent about an hour in the museum because it wasn’t all that big, then I moved on to see the Swiss Parliament building, which has a beautiful teal dome and a bunch of fountains out in front which people were running through. I stopped there for a bit to use wi fi and check some travel details. Since I still had some time, I went back to where I started the day – at the Bear Pits. This time I went to the brewery right by the Pits to have a fresh brewed tequila beer while watching the bears run around their habitat. There are stairs in their habitat and they walk up and down the concrete steps like humans, it’s funny to watch them do it! At 5:30, I met Olivier outside of his bank office to grab my backpack then I waited at the train station for a bit and got onto my train to Milan. I had originally planned to go to Barcelona, but some miscommunications and frustrations with my Eurorail pass meant that I was headed to Milan. The train ride between Bern and Milan was by far the most beautiful train ride I’ve ever taken. Outside the windows, lakes and mountains dotted with small villages flashed by. The sun was going down over the mountains and created a gorgeous sunset. Usually I have to read or do something else to keep myself occupied on the train but this time I was entranced by the scenery outside.