(Edited from journal entries written in Switzerland)
I had thought that, by getting up early, I would be able to give myself lots of time to explore Bern even after four hours' train travel. Indeed, I was in Bern by noon. The problem was, the hostel receptionist wasn't--lunch break was from 11 to 3. And I wasn't going to get far in Bern with no map and lugging all my baggage around.
Shortly after eating the lunch I had packed, two other travelers stumbled into the waiting room and found themselves in the same predicament. Their names were Rachel and Jessica, two American post-college high school English TAs in Alsace. Jessica was from Ohio, while Rachel came from Moorhead--a UM Duluth graduate. They hadn't had lunch yet, so we went to a nearby pizzeria where they ate and I sipped the second-most expensive diet Coke of my life. Afterward, we walked around the outdoor vendors in nearby BÃ¤renplatz (I bought some fruit) and went around the block admiring the shopping opportunities. By then it was 3, so we were finally able to check in and take a load off.
Despite the delay, I still had a good time in Bern. I had my picture taken with the fountain near the hostel with an ogre eating babies. Mmm, babies. I bought a crÃªpe with Nutella from a crÃªpe stand and then watched two old men play chess with oversized pieces on a public board in the ground, while a passel of other old men shouted advice and jeers in German. I visited Einstein's house (not all that impressive, especially since everything's labeled in German) and got a picture of the clock that inspired E=MC^2.
It was too late to visit the bear pits and I decided Gurten was too expensive, so then I arbitrarily decided to visit Rosengarten. I got there at sunset and it was AMAZING. So many roses, many still in bloom--it was much bigger than either the Scripps or the Swarthmore rose gardens. There were fountains, an old playground with a carousel, and a restaurant.
And the view! My God! Sitting on the wall, looking down at the entire old town wrapped in the river Aare with the soft orange of early twilight, and mountains on either side... who needs Gurten for such a view! The park was well-occupied while I was there: by two guys tossing a disc on the lawn; by cadres of young men, mostly dressed in black, puffing smoke from hand-rolled cigarettes and laughing; and by a lot of couples also admiring the view. Something about that light, as I watched it fall on the students sitting on benches with their sketchpads under the brown and yellow trees... It was heartbreaking. Perhaps the moment I most missed Nelson this semester.
Again, I really like Bern. It's a nice city, without seeming as pretentious as Lugano was. I guess, the image I had of Lugano in my head was of a small village. That's how it seemed in Bloomability. Maybe that's what it used to be like. But there's a casino or two now, and a zillion expensive hotels and schmancy banks, and the shopping is *definitely* geared toward the Rolex class. I mean, not that I *mind* seeing lots of attractive men wearing sunglasses and Italian suits roving about, but... Bern has a lot of nice stores too, of course, but I've seen a good number of secondhand or less-expensive options, too. I did some shopping at this quirky cute place called This and That near the clocktower, which had a lovely variety of random, inexpensive things.
So yeah. The Bern public transportation system may be insanely designed (of course, that's what I *always* think whenever I first arrive in a city), but Bern is certainly on my cool list.
Next entry: Zurich II: Revenge of the Germans!