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Bern, Baby Bern August 15, 2010

Posted by nsondej in Travel Log.
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This past weekend we visited Bern, Switzerland, partly on a whim, partly because it was the only place we could get train tickets to. After planning a bunch of trips for a couple of weeks out, we unfortunately neglected to plan a trip for the nearest weekend. As this was the case, we simply packed our bags and showed up at the Metz Ville Gare SNCF (the train station) after class and decided to let fate (or more accurately, the lottery that is the Metz ticket office) point us towards our weekend destination. It turns out that Metz, being simply a stop along a major rail route, has very little in the way of tickets or destinations. With this is mind, we took the first train to Luxembourg (which is a major hub) and found a much better offering of destinations at our disposal.

At Luxembourg, we found that the easiest to get to, and most interesting place available to us, was Bern, the capitol (in name at least) of Switzerland. A few hours of train travel later and we found ourselves in Bern at 3am. Now an interesting thing about Bern at 3am: very little. We found ourselves in need of a hotel or hostel, with little choice in the matter, as the train station in Bern is mainly open air and does not really serve very well as an impromptu sleeping quarter. After wandering through deserted streets for around a half hour, we finally managed to find a hotel that had empty rooms. Unfortunately, European hotels usually only have two main options: two person rooms and three person rooms. We had four people and Switzerland could win a UFC title in the beating that it hands out on your wallet. Luck was on our side, however, because when we explained to the guy at the desk that we didn’t speak German (Switzerland actually speaks Swiss-German), he responded with “Hell I don’t either”. He seemed to be on the short end of the totem pole in job hierarchy, relegated to working the skeleton crew night shift and was willing to overlook the fact that we were overbooking a room (something that is actually illegal in Europe).

The next morning we went on a tour de Bern, on the look out for some good restaurants, clubs, cool places and a hostel for the night. We met with varying degrees of success in this regard. Of cool places, there were many, as we saw some interesting architecture, enjoyed Bern’s geography (virtually surrounded on most sides by the River Aare, more on that in a moment) and saw the famous, if a bit disappointing, Bern bear pits, where brown bears have been living for centuries since Bern was founded. The bear pits were a letdown because while they might have been at one time an actual pit full of bears, in their current status they were much more like a zoo (i.e. tons of gawking tourists, bunch of bored animals, 1001 ways to lighten your wallet).

The River Aare was also excellent. We were enjoying just walking along side it, when we heard yells of joy coming from the river. The locals were jumping in, letting the river shoot them down stream and then getting out 50m or so later at the next staircase (the river is surrounded by staircases so that anyone who falls in can get out easily). A brief description of this river is probably necessary. It was teal, very clean, fairly cold, and really fast. Jumping in was like a waterpark ride. The river shot you down stream and swimming with the current made you feel like Phelps. It was a little harrowing getting out because we had to make sure we caught the ladder going by but it ended up going alright. Our motivation for doing this, beyond the cool factor, was a crippled local, who couldn’t join his friends in the river, saw us hesitating and told us that you only live once. The way he put it though, he was telling us to man up and have some fun. We weren’t disappointed.

Another fun event of note was getting a room for the night. Because of the high price of everything in Switzerland, it was not worth it to get a hostel – they were similarly priced to all the hotel rooms. We ended up paying the equivalent of 300 USD between four of us for a four person room. What we didn’t realize was that our four person room was basically the penthouse of this small hotel along a side road from the main thoroughfare of the Old Town. Despite this, it was the cheapest option and was an awesome change to the granite slabs of our dorm rooms back here in Metz.

The next day we returned early to Metz (Switzerland was fast eating our wallets alive) but it was an awesome day and a half trip.

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