After checking out the room at the Holiday Inn Bern-Westside we hopped on the train and headed into the City Center. The hotel staff told us the train took about 20 minutes, but they couldn’t have been more wrong – the train takes just about 10 minutes, which is why I wouldn’t hesitate staying at this hotel when visiting Bern again.
We arrived in the old City Center right around 16h30 and the streets were bustling. I was surprised at how many tourists were out and about. We ran into so many tourists from Asia snapping pictures with their iPads and stretching to take selfies with their iPads too. Such a strange sight.
Bern is the capital of Switzerland and is quite small, with only about 150,000 people, making it the forth largest City in the Country. When the City was founded, the Duke said he would name the City after the first animal found on the hunt. This ended up being a bear and ever since then the City has been called Bern and the bear has been the symbol of the City – or so legend tells us.
The Old Town area was named a Unesco World Heritage site in the early 1980s and is really the stereotypical old German city that I was expecting. There is a great tram system that radiates from the Old Town area. We didn’t have much planned for Bern, other than walking around the Old Town, grabbing some dinner and a drink. The second day, before we continued on to Zurich, we wanted to swing by Einstein’s house.
We followed a Frommer’s self guided walking tour of the Old Town, which was mildly interesting, which I’ll share a few pictures from below.
Several blocks from the main train station, we found BärenPark, which is a small bear habitat along the river. We even found a single bear hanging out, eating some grass. The weather was pretty warm for November, so I think the bear was enjoying his time outside as much as we were.
We found a few recommendations for dinner from TripAdvisor and Frommer’s and decided to wander aimlessly ourselves to see what looked good. We were surprised that so many bars and restaurants wouldn’t open until 18h00. I’m not use to that – anywhere we traveled. We found a highly recommended casual Swiss restaurant on the main street we were walking between the Train Station and BärenPark and walked in right at 18h00. The woman working there didn’t speak a word of English, and my German was a little rusty. We figured out, eventually, that we could sit and have a beer, but couldn’t have dinner because the restaurant was fully booked. But we later found that if we wanted dinner we could order it exactly at 18h30 when the kitchen opened, but would have to hurry, eat and leave as there was a full booking that night. We had a beer and left.
We wandered around a bit more, looking for the other restaurants on our list and found our number two choice pretty quickly. We decided to give it a go. The hostess at this new restaurant didn’t/wouldn’’t speak English, but my simple German managed to get us a table: “Wir haben keine reservation. Haben Sie einen Platz für uns?” – “We don’t have a reservation, do you have a place for us?” I know this isn’t proper German, but it served us well a few times.
Our meal was simple. I had a veal schnitzel with a nice local beer and MS had a steak with spätzle. Our server didn’t speak English either, but we were getting along pretty well, considering it has been 15 years since I studied German and the most use I get out of it is really on an intra-Europe Lufthansa flight once or twice a year.
We were tired from a day of driving through the French and Swiss countryside and days of drinking wine and gorging on cheese in France was starting to take its toll. We hopped on the train back to the hotel around 21h00 and decided to have a quiet evening at “home”. Knowing we’d be up early the next day to hit the Einstein museum then heading off to Zurich for our final night on the trip.
We ended up missing the Einstein House/Museum because of car issues (check the next post). We decided to keep that Museum on our list for the next trip and just head out to Zurich.
I enjoyed Bern – while we didn’t see a whole hell of a lot, it was nice, relaxing visit. It is really a beautiful old city with extremely nice people. The food we had wasn’t world class, but it was good. When planning this trip, I wanted to skip Bern and go to Basel, but I was vetoed (everyone gets a veto in trip planning) and I don’t regret our visit at all. I would like to return and see the Einstein Museum, but other than that I’m not chomping at the bit to return.
What should I put on my list for my next visit to Bern? Or should I just skip Bern and go to Basel or another City? Were you surprised by the restaurant opening times in Old Town? What about the lack of English? I’m fine not speaking English, that’s the fun of travel, it was just surprising considering everything else about Switzerland.