We had yogurts and coffee/tea in our room again, and then checked out and took off for the next portion of our Swiss adventure. It felt a little bit like a 10-cities-in-10-days kind of thing because we added both Bern and Zurich to our itinerary for today. We took the train to Bern and saw some beautiful vistas of Lake Geneva and the Swiss alps behind it on the way to Lausanne and a bit beyond, while the train still goes along the lake. It was a little hazy at 9 in the morning, but visibility was much better than two days ago when we came in. We got to Bern a little before 11 and checked our luggage in the lockers for the day. We walked around a little aimlessly at first, but then found the river Aare (not hard since old Bern is basically built into one of its big loops, and thus surrounded on three sides by it). We had a quick lunch of French fries and bratwurst at a public swimming pool by the river, and then found our way to the famous bears. The bears of Berne (the city name is allegedly derived from the word „bear“) used to be in this horrible little moat, much too small for them, but they now have a bigger territory right down at the river. Still not big enough, of course; the two bears we saw look bored and wandered back and forth restlessly. We crossed the Nydegg bridge back into the old town and walked through the crooked little cobblestone streets. There is a famous clock tower and an equally famous main church with excessively Gothic spires that turn out to be of the classic „finished in the 19th century” kind, and the up and down from riverbanks to the upper portions of the downtown, where the enormous Swiss parliament building is, was dramatic and a lot of fun. But I think we both liked the teal-colored, exceptionally clear river and the bridges best, especially in the gorgeous sunshine we had most of the day.
After our three or so hours in Bern, we got back on the train to Zurich, and arrived around 4 pm. We found our way to the hotel—not a bad walk, about 15 minutes, but since it was hot and we (more precisely, Mark, while I was trying to follow the gps instructions on the phone) were dragging the suitcase over cobblestones, it felt very long. Once we were at the Hotel Hirschen, we were very happy: It was an old hotel where we had a room high up overlooking a plaza (Hirschplatz, as one would imagine), teeny but spotless and with windows that opened wide for fresh air and people watching. We ventured right back out, though, walked around just a little and then settled at the restaurant next door for our fancy Swiss meals involving renowned cheeses—fondue AND Raclette. Technically, Mark ordered the one and I the other, but they had technical problems with their electric Raclette warmer (a contraption that heats little pans for melting cheese right at the table before you have it with potatoes and select veggies). So we were served the fondue first, then the Raclette, and split each. Needless to say, both were delicious—but I enjoyed the Raclette more, because I hadn‘t had it in over 30 years. My family used to occasionally borrow someone else‘s Raclette contraption, so we sometimes had it as a weekend feast, and I always loved it. But that would have been before I left home for school in 1987! For the record, we did not lose any bread in our fondue (in-joke for German Asterix readers: „In den See! Mit einem Gewicht an den Füßen!“). And I do think my fondue is just as good as the restaurant made it.
After dinner, we walked Zurich‘s inner city. Unlike Bern, Zurich does really have parts of the busy inner city on both banks of its river (the Linnap), right where the Linnap feeds the lake, so that like Geneva, Zurich is also a city at the tip of a lake. I didn’t realize it until I looked it up on Wikipedia, but by visiting these three, we have now seen the three most populous cities of Switzerland, with Zurich being the biggest at 390,000 inhabitants, and over a million in the larger area (it did feel like the biggest and most lively of the three!). We walked the river banks, but also the up and down streets of the old city quarters. Beautiful, with lots of crooked, unexpected alleys that were fun to explore. On the one bank, there is the Lindenhof, a plaza/mini park where the oldest settlements of Zurich sat. They date back to Roman times, and there is a gravestone from 200 AD that’s set into the wall as the first dateable artifact. It’s high up over the river and was undoubtedly a good defense spot. Now it’s just a great view. We also saw the various churches very briefly, and I even snuck a peek at one of the famous Chagall windows in the Frauenmunster before they shooed me out of the entrance because they were taking tickets for a concert that night. The Grossmunster, on the other side of the river, has really interesting twin towers, but again, we didn’t go in because it was already closed. But we really enjoyed the views, and especially the people watching. Of course, the entire inner city and also the banks of the lake a little further out were teeming with people, clearly a mix of locals and tourists, and the diversity of ethnic groups, ages, and fashions was just so much fun to watch. And I had just remarked that there wasn‘t much street music when we heard a violinist play the Danse Macabre, followed 10 minutes later by an entire brass and wind ensemble (30 people or so) that played in a plaza surrounded by the classic 4-5 story townhouses that characterize the whole downtown (great acoustics!). We also walked past the Cafe Voltaire—famous as the birth place of Dadaism, since Tristan Tzara, Hans Arp, and other Dadaists hung out there and „invented“ their nonsense art. I had a very intense Dada phase in high school (because I liked German Dadaists-turned-surrealists Max Ernst and Kurt Schwitters), and got to revisit that last spring as I was taking my on-line Art History course. If we had had more time, we would have spent some time in the local art museum—and also in the Paul Klee museum in Bern. Geneva would have had a Nikki de St. Phalle / Jean Tinguely exhibit that I would have also like to see. Regrets…but the trip was just too short. We‘ll have to come back some year.
We wandered around until about 8, but then our legs had had enough. We sat in our plaza with some gelato for a little while, but then went back to our hotel room, opened all the windows wide and let the constant jabber of hundreds of voices from the outdoor restaurants below us lull us to sleep. Both of us found that oddly soothing and slept very well.