Switzerland (IV): Swiss Capital Bern

It is true that people come to Switzerland for her great outdoors, to places like Lake Lucerne (Luzern) and the Berner Oberland, the beauty of Swiss Alps is out of this world! With that said, if you have extra time, Swiss cities also have a lot to offer. We visited a few cities in Switzerland, such as Luzern, Zurich and Interlaken, all of us agree that Bern is the dearest.

An hour ride from Interlaken, the train dropped us right in the old town of Bern. And the charm of the city was felt immediately the moment we stepped out of the train station.

Colorful 16th-century fountains are scattered around the city, 11 in total, prominently placed at the center of the road. They are the trademark of the city, adding vibrant colors and fun to otherwise monotone buildings.

The Parliament is a definite must visit. See the statues in the above shot: the women on the left, under 1291, stands for Freedom; the woman on the right, under 1848, represents Peace.

Both years of 1291 and 1848 are significant in the Swiss history. And city of Bern has been the Swiss capital since 1848.

The View over the Aare River from the Terraces behind the Parliament

Pass the passageway at the right of the Parliament building to the Terraces in the back, we were welcomed with great views!

The beautiful blue color of the Aare River is from the melting glacier water of the nearby mountains Eiger, Momch and Junfrau. We were told that in a clear day you could see the alps in the distance on the Terraces.

View of the Parliament Building from Kirchenfeld Bridge, across the Aare River.

We followed the Rick Steves’ travel guide “Heart of Bern Walk”. We basically stay on this long road after making a left turn across Bahnhofplatz out of train station. What confused us was the name of the road–this street changed names four times! From Spitalgasse to Marktgasse, to Kramgasse, finally to Nydegg near the Bear Park where the Walk ended.

We only turned right, toward the Aare River, off the main road three times to see the Parliament, the Cathedral and the Einstein Museum.

Bern Cathedral is a 15th century Catholic-turned-into-Protestant church, with a mighty 330-foot tower, the tallest in Switzerland.

See the Cathedral tower on the right shot.

Can you find the bear on this shot? Hint: He was trying to catch a fish 🙂

Bear is the symbol of the city. You can spot this local mascot in many places in Bern, it is even on the coat of arms of Bern.

We found a live one soundly sleeping in the wood by the Aare River in the Bear Park. He looked content and happy to me.

When you see a Casino in Bern, don’t automatically think of gambling. It is the home of Bern’s Symphony Orchestra! 🙂

The building on the right side of Kirchenfeld Bridge is Bern’s History Museum complex, which devotes an entire second floor to Albert Einstein.

One of the highlights of our visit was the History Museum, covered by the Swiss Travel Pass, on the other side of the Aare River. The museum’s second floor was all about Albert Einstein.

We spent a big part of the afternoon learning about Einstein, one of the smartest men walked on Earth. He lived in Bern from 1901 to 1909, it was his work during this period, the Relativity Theory, won him the Nobel Prize.

At the Bear Park, we hopped on the bus #12, and arrived at another museum, Paul Klee Center, 15 minutes later.

This cool wavy building complex was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano. Another museum we visited by the same architect was Pompidou in Paris.

Paul Klee is a Swiss native, a world-renowned artist (1879-1940). The Center houses his artwork as well as his art collections.

To be honest, the buildings were more interesting than his art work.

If you have Swiss Travel Pass, the museum is free, otherwise 20 CHF!

Iceland (V): From Borgarnes to Akureyri, Part I (North)

It was the fourth day, we continued to circle the Ring Road to the north.  It was about 200 miles from Borgarnes to Akureyri, we made multiple stops at Bifröst, Blönduós, Glaumbær, Hofsós, Siglufjörður, Dalvík and finally Akureyri.

Our first stop was Grabrok Crater at Bifröst, 30 minutes north of Borgarnes.

Grabrok was a volcanic crater.  Newly built paths circled the entire crater rim, with the panoramic view of the surrounding areas.

To the north, beautifully shaped mountains.

Bifrost Grabrok Crater 2

To the west, a crater with similar shape and size.

Bifrost Grabrok Crater5

To the south, it was the small village Bifröst–beautiful but no rainbow bridge to Asgard.

Bifrost Grabrok Crater6

And the winding road we drove on a few minutes ago.

This site would be much nicer visit in a clear and calm day.  For a few instants, I was afraid to get blown into the crater pit by the wind! Other than that it was really fun to walk around the rim.

Bifrost Grabrok Crater7

Back to the road, there were many farm animals grazing under the big Icelandic sky–cows, horses, and lot of sheep.

Blonduos2

Do you know there are about 800,000 sheep and lambs in Iceland, a country with the population of just 323,000?!  To our surprise, most of the sheep we saw were small group of 3 to 5, not a large flock.

Our next town was Blönduós.  We saw kids jumping on a rainbow “trampoline”.

Here was our first encounter of black sand beach.  Cold and windy, we were the only souls on the beach! Haha yes, silly tourists.

Continuing north, we caught sight of a forest of young trees. There were the first seedlings we saw since arrival to this country.  Later on we learned from the museum guide that a great effort of replanting was on going in the country.  Most of the young trees were imported from oversea.  Can you imagine the island used to be covered by forests before human settled here?  It was understood that woods were cut down to use as fuels to combat cold.

Glaumbaer1

Another phenomenon we found out unique to Iceland: the center of any settlement, such as a village, a small town even just a couple of houses, was always a church.  Many churches were simple and in the same style: white body with red roof and a steeple.

Our next stop was Glaumbær in Skagafjörður. We went to visit a classic turf farm-museum.  You see, a church in the town center.

The farm museum was very interesting, the houses were covered with sods and grass.

There were at least 12 rooms connecting together, bedrooms for the farmer and his wife and their children, kitchen, storage rooms and many more.  The yellow brick building was a gift shop with a cozy cafe.

To be continued…