Bern was our third stop on our train tour around western Switzerland in early December. We flew into Geneva, took the train from the airport to Lausanne, spent a day in Montreux, and then there we were in Bern! Though we were on a somewhat tight budget, and, as I think most would agree, Switzerland isn't usually known as a country friendly to those traveling on the cheap, we had a really great time.
D - Shannon is a little obsessed with dogs, and one of her favorites is the Bernese Mountain Dog, a breed originating from, you guessed it...Bern. This being the case, we were hoping that the city would be teeming with them, or at the very least, that we would see one or two. I kept my eyes peeled on our train journey through snowy farmland hoping that I would see a Berner happily pulling a sled loaded with Swiss farm stuff, but alas, I didn't spot any.
Since we were in Bern in winter, it was cold, and we knew it would get dark early, so after arriving around lunchtime from Montreux, we got settled into our Airbnb and started our (self-guided) walking tour around town. We began at Zytglogge, the city's clock tower since 1530 that still "performs" every hour using all of its original mechanical parts. We didn't time our stop quite right and thus weren't able to see the performance, but the Swiss do have a good reputation when it comes to clocks, so I do believe them when they say that this one still works perfectly. ;)
D - One very pleasant surprise for us when we arrived at our Airbnb was that all tourists receive free public transportation cards upon arriving at their accommodation - even at Airbnbs! They're called Bern Tickets. While we didn't take the bus too much, as we were staying pretty close to the center of town and it's very walkable, we took it a couple times and it was a great option to have.
We walked down Kramgasse, a popular shopping street in Bern as we made our way towards the Rosengarten/Rose Garden. En route, we crossed the bridge over the Aare River and to our right, saw the BärenPark/BearPark where three bears live year round, although they were hibernating during our visit. The walk up the hill is a pretty easy one, and the views are certainly worth it, even on a cloudy day.
D - I had hoped that if I walked across the bridge loudly enough I could bring a bear out of hibernation like an angry troll, but alas (again), we couldn't lure any bears out of their slumber and we were 0 for 2 in terms of Bern wildlife spottings.
We walked back into town in search of lunch at one of the Christmas markets (there were two going on when we were in Bern, one in Münsterplatz in front of Berner Münster, the city's cathedral, which had a lot of beautiful, local crafts, and another at Waisenhausplatz) but found the food stalls especially lacking. We decided to instead create our own feast since it was supposed to start snowing at any moment, and we didn't really have the desire to wander around searching for 'reasonably priced' food - for us, it just didn't really exist.
We combined lunch and dinner into one large meal and went crazy at the grocery store as we searched for (what we believed were) Swiss specialties and then some other things that just caught our eye. As you can see in the photo below, we ended up with soup, vegan chicken cordon bleu, apples and clementines, a big loaf of fresh bread, a chunk of cheese that we had gotten a chance to sample in the store, and a bar of chocolate. We worried we wouldn't have enough food, but as I'm sure you've already guessed, we had trouble finishing it all (we ended up saving some for breakfast actually), and as the snow started really accumulating outside, we rented a movie Danny'd been dying to see and called it a night.
D - As we were making our way from the grocery store back to the Airbnb, we came across a real live Bernese Mountain Dog in Bern! It was a magical moment for sure, but unfortunately, I couldn't capture it on camera as it all happened a little fast.
Normally we are not the type to watch movies or, well...relax while traveling, but the snow forced us to stay in and I'm glad that it did. Wonder Woman was a great flick! That being said, if there's one place I wish the weather was a bit warmer while we were there, it's Bern (at least it's up near the top of the list - we travel a lot in the cooler months so that list is actually pretty long). The town center is indescribably picturesque and mantains a lot of it's old world orginality (unlike much of Europe due to World War II) and I would have loved to have been able to just amble down the streets and take in the sights without fear of hypothermia.
Before we left Bern the next morning, we had granola and yogurt at our Airbnb that we'd bought the afternoon before while at the grocery store. We spent our last full day in Switzerland in Geneva, which we got to via a very picturesque and snowy train ride.
And that was our budget visit to Bern! It can definitely be done, especially if you avoid places with entrance fees like the Bernisches Historisches Museum (Bern Historical Museum)/Einstein Museum and Natural History Museum and are willing to eat cheap, get around on foot (or use the Bern Ticket!), and if possible, do some cooking. Switzerland is just one of those places where it seems to pay to take a different approach to traveling than you might normally - try out Airbnb and meet the locals (our host was a professor at the University of Bern and rents out her spare room for next to nothing!), wander through local grocery stores Coop and Migros with ordinary folk, see what's on sale, and put together something easy, and skip museums that aren't absolute must-sees for you. We chose just one museum while we were in Switzerland since going to one a day would have really added up for us (in addition to train tickets, food, accommodations, etc.), and I think that we were both really happy with the Olympic Museum and definitely got our money's worth (see our visit here). Okay, come back to see what we got up to in Geneva tomorrow!