A charming Old Town surrounded by a wild river, a Rose Garden with great views, live bears at Bärenpark, the sound of the river and violin music are the ingredients for a great day in Bern.
I was sitting in the train looking through the window. The lake Leman disappeared in the distance and was replaced by small houses and green fields. Somewhere behind me, two guys were listening to very loud music. A man complained, the guys answered in bad manners, and lowered the volume anyway. I was lost in my thoughts.
I remembered the couchsurfing meeting I attended in July, more than a month before. That day I met some locals who recommended me a few places to visit.
‘You should go to Bern, it’s just a day trip from Lausanne’.
‘I’ll go’, I thought immediately. But summer passed by and it wasn’t until my last week in Switzerland that I finally bought the train ticket to Bern.
‘Do you know what to see there?’, my friend asked.
‘The center. And… there is a river…’. That is to say, I had no idea.
When I entered the train I still hadn’t done any research. For a moment I contemplated the possibility of just wandering around without knowing what to expect. At the end I discarded the idea though, since I would be there only for one day.
I looked at the map on my phone to get a first impression of the city.
The Old Town was built on a peninsula surrounded by a river. I saw a lot of theater icons and viewpoints. ‘I’ll like it’, I thought. There was also a giraffe icon.
I clicked the icon of the giraffe. Bärenpark, it said. Not knowing German, the name didn’t clarify me anything. So I consulted wikitravel and discovered that it is a park with live bears.
In addition, I read that the city center is a Unesco World Heritage Site, featuring arcade walkways, fountains and clock towers. It definitely sounded promising. I just hoped the weather would be fine!
Bern music (and other sounds)
When I left the train station, the first thing I saw were the trolleybuses and their network of cables. And the first thing I heard, in between cars and motorbikes, was a violin.
How could I not like a city which received me with a clear blue sky and violin music? Moreover, music and sounds followed me all day.
It started right outside the train station. The music came from a violinist marionette. She was wearing a traditional dress, had long hair and a friendly smile.
I like music, though I’m not a person who listens to music all day. If I don’t listen to it, I don’t miss it. But sometimes, in some situations, music attracts me like iron to a magnet. And that violin had this effect on me, and though I was excited to explore the city, I stopped there. It was soothing and emotive at the same time.
The city center was indeed charming. I liked the architecture, the cobbled streets, the arches and the clock towers. There were many bicycles. A fountain was decorated with flowers and balloons. A restaurant had cacti on the tables.
And it was lively.
Cars, tramways and people shared the narrow streets. I was trying to find the best angle for a photo when I heard a tramway coming and had to go out of the way. It happened again and again. I felt like in a video game, trying to take photos without being run by the numerous tramways. The sound of the coming tramways is still in my memory!
There was a lot of people around one of the clock towers, looking at their watch. It was 11:55 am. Would something happen at 12 o’clock?
At midday there was a little song and then the sculptures moved at the sound of the bells.
I left the Markgasse, the main street, and took side streets. There were arches and paintings on the walls. I found a church that had a park behind, with nice views over the river. Until that moment I hadn’t realized that the city was so high compared to the level of the river, down there.
Many people were sitting on the grass, having a picnic. It was lunchtime. So I sit down as well and ate my food. Nearby, a street musician was playing the guitar. Again, the music was with me.
Bern roses (Rose Garden)
After lunch I crossed the river and went to the Rose Garden. Up, up, up. It was a bit hard to go up after lunch under the hot sun, but the views over the Old Town were wonderful. And it wasn’t so long before I reached the Rose Garden.
There were many kinds of roses, big and small, of different colors and shapes. I didn’t know there was so much diversity of roses!
Next to a pond with a fountain I stopped to listen to the sound of the water. It was relaxing. So relaxing, that I lied down on the shade of the trees and closed my eyes. I stayed there for half an hour.
Bern bears (Bärenpark)
The legend says that Bern is named and carries the emblem of the first animal which was hunted in the area when the city was founded in the 12th Century. It was a bear, and hence the tradition of keeping live bears in the city.
As the city expanded the bears pit changed location several times. Nowadays there are three bears kept in a large area on the shore of the river. They have trees, shade and a place to bath in the river. Definitely much better than the previous pit, which was depressingly small. It’s still possible to see it since it hosts an exhibition of the history of the bears in the city.
The bears produced in me contradictory feelings. As exciting as it was to see this powerful wild animals from so close, it made me sad to see them in captivity, so I didn’t stay long.
Bern river (River Aare)
I kept walking along the river. If you’ve been reading me you’ll know that I’m a water lover so, of course, I love any city which has a river, lake or sea.
And the river in Bern was quite special. Usually the rivers in big cities are large and quiet, but in Bern the river was wild. The water moved fast. And people knew how to enjoy it.
They entered the river and let the flow take them downstream, where there were specific places to go in and out. I didn’t dare because you have to be a strong swimmer, due to the current, or carry some kind of floating stuff.
I stopped and sit under the trees, my feet in the water. It was a hot day and the water was cold, it was so cool. Nearby three girls chatted and drank a bottle of wine. I listened to the soothing sound of the water, and observed the brave swimmers. Most of them had a floating bundle attached to a cord, which I imagined to be a water proof bag to keep their belongings.
And somehow, despite the charming old town, the special garden with roses, and the controversial bears… this is the image of Bern I keep in my mind. The river, the sound of the water, the violin music, the sounds of Bern.
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This post is part of Jo’s Monday walks.
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