Bern is the federal capital of Switzerland. It is a very quiet city with just 137,919 people in the city and 600,000 including the whole metropolitan area. It is easily accessible by rail with just a one hour train ride from Zurich.
I only had a chance to spend three days in Bern, but I definitely felt connected to Bern and Switzerland as a whole. The row houses with walkable streets and shops below them felt very welcoming. The public transportation enables one to easily move around the city and country without much difficulty.
As a visitor, I found it to be very expensive. I stopped for a light dinner and a drink which it cost 52 Swiss Francs (more than $60). It was a rather light dinner so that I found I was eating cheese and chocolate later in the day back at the apartment I was staying at. A couple people told me that the salaries compensate for this expensive cost of living and it definitely seems that the Swiss would benefit in world travel because almost every economy would be cheaper than what they are used to (and the level at which they are paid).
Juan Bellestrio and Daniel Trappman (Post doc and PhD student in the Dendro Lab) where great tour guides. My first evening (after stopping for a beer), they took me to the Swiss Federation building which is the national governmental offices, the famous clock tower in the city, Einstein’s house, and the Munster Church. They ended the evening by taking me to the Bear Pit which was a great restaurant on a hillside where some of the bear are that the city of Bern is named after (probably not the exact same bears). Later when I was looking at a guide for what to do in Bern, they systematically listed all of the places that they had taken me to, so I felt like I had a good starter course on sightseeing in Bern.
My first two days, I had the opportunity to tour the Dendro Lab and meet its members (see the next post on this lab and the people involved). I was even treated to about three hours of presentations and discussions about their research and I got to present some of my fire history in hardwood tree species work. Later on the second day (after a great lunch at a Turkish restaurant) I presented our pandora moth work at a geography seminary with 30-40 people in the audience.
Markus Stoffel (director of the Dendro Lab) suggested that I take the Gurtenbahn up the mountain for the views of the city and to climb the church tower. I spent my last day enjoying the sites from those dizzying heights and a tour of Einstein’s apartment and museum. Gurtenbahn is a furnicular which is a set of two tram cars that balance each other. They used to be powered by loading the waste water on the uphill car, which would then bring that to the bottom of the hill while pulling the other car to the top of the hill. Although the day was a bit hazy with moisture in the atmosphere and some pollution, it was very peaceful to spend a few hours on top of this hill just on the margin of the city. There is a high concentration of song birds that make the mountain their home and six falcons that were taking advantage of the thermals. You can go to the website for Gurtenbahn and they have a virtual reality 3D tour of the hill top that has the sound of song birds chirping away. Their chirping song was an almost continuous companion during my visit. Sadly, the day was too hazy to see the peaks of the Bernese Alps in the distance, but this location offered great views of the city and surrounding suburbs. They had a tower on one end of the hill with a spiral stair case to reach the top. This was a great perch to see in all directions and to spend some time watching the falcons swirl through the air and occasionally screech to each other.
I spent some time at Einstein’s Kaffe and touring his apartment at Kramgasse 49 where he stayed from 1903-1905 as a patent clerk. In 1905 is when he worked on his papers on the light quantum hypothesis (for which he received the Nobel Prize), Brownian Motion, and the Special Theory of Relativity. This apartment building has been converted to a museum with preservation of the space and artifacts from his life and time in Bern.
I really liked the cellar doors that led to shops below the main street level. Much of the old street was lined with these shop entrances and charismatic doors.
The Bern Münster Church was one of the highlights in Bern. Construction started on this building in 1421 and was not completed until 1893. They were doing some restoration on the building while I was there. The tower is 330 feet tall (which is just short of the tallest tree in the world which is a coast redwood in California that is 379 feet tall) and had an outer spiral staircase that you could climb to a top terrace for a view over the city. This was a very nice view although I felt a bit precarious in a tight stone enclosed spiral staircase that was attached to the outside of the building.
Another of the main tourist attractions in the city was the large clock tower (or Zytglogge meaning time bell) in the center of the city. The tower was first built in AD 1218-1220 and a clock, bell, and astronomical clock where added in AD 1405. The tower and clocks have been renovated many times in the past 800 years, but remains as a center point for the city of Bern.