This summer Peter and I went on an adventure to Europe. With the help of a stellar memory and my obsessive journalling, I’m sharing those adventures with you.
On July 21st, Peter and I said good-bye to our wonderful German hosts and headed out of Duisburg on an overnight train.
Pros to the overnight train: Completing a long stretch of travel while sleeping. Not paying for a hotel that night.
Cons to the overnight train: A reclining seat is not the same as a bed. The snoring. Oh, the snoring.
I am a good sleeper. Like, it’s my super power, I’m so good at sleeping. But I had a terrible night on that train. At about three in the morning I came dangerously close to marching down the aisle, shaking a strange man awake and telling him something must be seriously wrong for him to snore like that. Instead I lay awake and listened to the train cars get unhooked while the workmen in the dark stations outside laugh and talk.
The overnight train was supposed to take us to Basel, Switzerland, where we would transfer to our next train to Bern. So we hopped off at Basel HBF, only to realise we were still in Germany. Turns out there are two stations in Basel – one in Germany, one in Switzerland. Entirely thanks to Peter we figured it out fast enough to get back on the train and go one more stop into Switzerland.
We arrived in Bern two hours later than expected but it was only 9am so we wandered around and looked for a place to eat the breakfast we had packed along. In a pretty garden by Munsterplatz, surrounded by a stone wall and overlooking the River Aare, we ate breakfast. Bread, cheese, and sausage from Fritzlar. We looked over the Old Town as I fed bits of banana to the sparrows.
We found the zyglogge (astronomical clock) in time to watch it ring and then located our hostel near by, close the Rathaus. We couldn’t check in until 3pm but were able to leave our bags so that we could explore Bern unencumbered.
(We stayed at the Bern Backpackers Glocke and I would recommend it. We booked a private room with a shared bathroom. Our room had bunk beds!)
We discovered that Bern literally means “bear” and that the city has fully embraced its name. Statues and crests with bears were everywhere. And along the river there was even a park with real, live bears.)
We walked along the river where we saw one man floating on his back down the swift current, past the city.
“Look at that guy!” we said to each other. “He’s crazy!”
Then we saw more and more people floating down the river and we started to wonder if we could do it too. It was after noon now and brightly hot and many businesses had closed for a mid-day siesta. We had to wait until we could check-in and get our bags and then we set about figuring how to go swimming in the river. The Aare curls through Old Town Bern and takes you quickly away from where you jump in. We would have to walk through town to get to and from our hostel. What should we do with our stuff? People floated by us clutching dry bags and we saw bags for sale in stores but couldn’t justify the 60 Swiss Francs price. So my ingenious husband came up with a plan.
We walked back to the park in flip flops, our swimsuits on under our clothes, and chose a spot to enter the river. We put our clothes in a ziploc bag and then put that bag in a cloth bag I had brought along. In went our flip flops and then Peter’s piece de resistance – an empty 1.5 litre water bottle. We tied the bag shut. It floated! We held hands and jumped in.
The water is glacial, coming down from the Alps, but the river is shallow enough that it gets quite warm. If the current weren’t so strong, you’d be able to stand in many places. The river is clear and clean and the same brilliant turquoise colour as so many lakes in the Canadian Rockies. It was perhaps the most unique way I’ve ever viewed a city, the old buildings lining the shores on each side. Mostly, you simply float and let the river take you, though when you turned a corner, the current wanted to push you to shore. We floated past the bear park and under two bridges, people above pausing to watch us. Some brave (or foolish) teenagers jumped from above.
As we got further and began trying to figure out where we should get out, we heard singing on either shore. The Swiss Army in training, out for a run along the river. We floated by, watching them run as they sang their marching songs.
Dotted along the river are stone steps with red railings to help you get out. That’s the hardest part – timing it right to reach the side exactly when and where you want to. Without scraping your knees on the rocky shores.
Then we walked back upriver for a second run. When we were finished we sat on the grass along the shore and dried off in the sun. Our clothes, secure in their ziploc bags, were mostly dry.
We spent two nights in Bern and we floated on the river each day. It was great way to cool off as we explored the town and wandered in and out of shops.
Truthfully, we had chosen Bern simply as a convenient stop along the way from Germany to Italy. But we were left with a definite desire to return to Switzerland one day. Bern was beautiful, clean, and fascinating. And expensive.
Switzerland maintains its own currency – the Swiss Franc – and in an effort to not have money left over when we entered Italy and returned to the Euro, we took out the bare minimum in cash when we arrived in Bern. We bought all of our food at grocery stores and made use of our hostel’s kitchen. The only eating out we did was drinking espresso. Oh, and eating Swiss chocolate, of course! We spent our mornings wandering through stores, window shopping, marvelling at the differences in groceries from Canadian markets, and discussing our souvenir options. On Tuesday we got to see the open air market along Marktglasse – stalls of clothing, bags, antiques, flowers, cheese, and vegetables. In the afternoon we went back to the river.
On our last evening we walked along the other side of the river, following the hills to search for the best view. We found one in the rosegarten at the top of a hill and sat to watch the sun set before walking back to our hostel in the dimming light.
Next stop: Menaggio, Italy