The best part of Europe where to really experience the Alps is in the middle of Switzerland, in Bernese Oberland region. Bernese Oberland region is where cows graze on high pastures during the warmer seasons, the starting place for the hiking trails, excursions into the higher Alps region, rail and cable cars lifts, plus many more activities. Here one can savor the natural world while enjoying the most modern creature comforts while undertaking some very daring adventures. In Switzerland in general and in Bernese Oberland in particular, visiting the capital city of Bern by the river Aare is a wise decision.
Here's a tidbit for writers. Bern is the city where first international copyright laws were passed during the late nineteenth century. The city of Bern, at 1800 feet altitude, snuggles into the U shaped arm of the river Aare, extending its reach from side to side by historical bridges and railways.
Surrounded by densely wooded areas and mountains, Bern is not a crowded city, except for tourists. A walking tour in good weather--starting along Hauptbahnhof (train station) and stretching along one street, which doesn't even take two miles--gives the traveler the feel of this old city with its cobblestone streets, famed clock tower (no, not as tall as Big Ben but its clock is more visible), many flamboyant ancient fountains still with water, monuments and a cathedral. On one of the fountains--I believe it is called "Justice Fountain"--the figure of justice steps on the heads of criminals. Bern's train station has three levels of shopping that introduces bear paraphernalia. The bear toys, bear figures, and everything about bears can be witnessed all over the city. Two real live bear pits may be visited where automatic carrot dispensers or human carrot vendors serve to feed the bears.
On our tour, we were told that bears have been Bern's symbol since the twelfth century. The legend or fact is that the duke who founded the city said he would name the city after the first animal he shot. (Nice guy!) He shot a bear and thus he named the city Baren for bear which became Bern. For the same reason a bear figure is on the state flag and also on the coat of arms. Bern's astronomical clock tower is situated at the east gate right around the marketplace where one can buy Swiss goods at a much lower price than buying them here at home in USA at the imported price. Every hour on the hour when the clock strikes, there is a four minute performance by quite a few moving figures.
Under the watch of father time, a jester rings the bells to a parade of bears, a knight in armor and a crowing rooster. This routine, we were informed, has been going on since the sixteenth century. In Bern, each fountain has a story or depicts some kind of imagery. The weirdest one, I thought, was the fountain of the child-eating ogre.
What we saw was an ogre eating a child while holding other children to be consumed later. Maybe it was the despotic feudalism that produced such gory ideas. Someone commented that the ogre represented the Jews of Europe, which made my hairs stand at end. For a continent that prides itself in being civilized and open-minded and lords that thought over to USA and many other countries in the world, Switzerland--actually all of Europe--sure has a nasty, shameful past. Many people climb the 270 steps of the huge church tower of the famous Cathedral of St.
Vincent in Bern and they say the view of the Alps is fantastic from the top. Well, I didn't. I had climbed the Statue of Liberty in NYC, and even though I was 23 years old then, that was enough to teach me a lesson on climbing tower stairs. Yet, the inside of the Cathedral is lovely with antique stained glass panels, although the tympanum at the west front of the Cathedral is overly decorated with nearly 250 figures portraying the Last Judgment. Somebody must have counted, since they told us that number. Right around the Cathedral, stands the Moses fountain and after that is the place where Einstein lived and probably developed his theory of relativity while he worked at the University of Bern.
The Swiss take great pride in Einstein's having lived there and also in their higher education that led the world for a while. The main street lined with houses and shops built several centuries ago and in good condition is called Marktgasse. The famous prison tower now serving as some kind of a museum is situated on Marktgasse. There are several museums in Bern.
We went inside the Swiss Alpine Museum that contained ancient maps of the Alps, mountaineering equipment used through the centuries, models of mountain huts, and anything belonging to the exploration of the Alps. It was interesting enough but could not match the beauty of the mountains themselves. An interesting aspect of Bern was the many flags hanging and waving everywhere. I thought they had a national holiday but they told me the flags stayed all the time. Bern is a very pretty, tidy city.
Passages lined with vendors connect the streets; the streets are filled with tiny shops and small, clean restaurants. Many varieties of flowers can be seen everywhere. Along the windows of almost every house, flowerboxes are filled at least with geraniums, and if a tourist can stand the fatigue of walking, the horse and cattle market is a sight to see. All things considered, a walking tour in Bern is very enjoyable, because in a small café or chocolate shop, a weary traveler can always take a delicious Swiss "coffee and chocolate" break. .
By: Joy Cagil