City of Bern (personal photo).
Let me take you to our time in Switzerland, the most naturally beautiful country of the 9 we visited (albeit with some tough competition). We were lucky enough to experience two cities in the magnificent, and frankly almost unrealistically majestic landscape populated by the Swiss. Our first stop was the capital, Bern. Throughout our trip, we tried to find the “off the beaten path” activities and places, even in the bigger cities. There was nowhere else where we succeeded in that more than Bern. Staying with Airbnb hosts made this considerably easier for us; to experience the city more like locals than tourists.
We stayed about a five minute train ride from the main Bern train station, and considering the relatively small size of the capital, from there it was no further than a fifteen to twenty minute walk to anywhere we wanted to go. We made it there in late June, and even during that time, it reminds you of a picturesque winter wonderland, minus the snow. The buildings are reminiscent of what I would picture the North Pole to be, very robust, stone and brick construction, with elegant features including spires, clock towers, and pillars, and a river snaking through the stunning architecture; the Aare.
Astronomic clock tower, downtown Bern (personal photo)
It took us about a day to get a really good feel of the city, all while trying the infamous chocolate and cheese (highly recommended). It was jacket weather about the whole time we were there, except the second day. And we jumped on that opportunity… To take a step back, on the nicer, hotter days of late summer it is a popular activity for the residents of Bern to swim in the crystal clear, and magnificently colored Aare River (pictured below). Now, considering that it is composed of melt from the Alps, it is easy to imagine the frigid temperature of the water that so appealingly invites you. Of course, on a hot day, this freezing water would be as refreshing as imaginable, but it was not one of those days, and we had no idea how cold it really got, all we could focus on was experience, and all in all, it was absolutely worth every second. There are entrances that line the calmer, swim-worthy stretch, but we decided that was too easy, and found a bridge, and there is no easing your way in off of a bridge… The shock was breathtaking, quite literally. When we re-broke the surface, we were gasping for air, and for a moment fearing we had made a big mistake. Normally, your body adjusts to the surrounding of a cold temperature, but not at this level. We floated until we got to the nearest exit, maybe 100-200 yards from the bridge, laughing in both anguish and joy, the whole way.
Aare River, from an overlook (personal photo). Bridge from which we jumped.
The rest of our time there was spent walking to the further outskirts of the city, admiring architecture, and hiking a beautiful but long way to a viewpoint from which we could see the entire city, topped off with a rainbow to reward our efforts.
Our final stop in Switzerland was to a mountain town called Gimmelwald, nestled neatly in the Swiss Alps. Not to be confused with the popular Grindelwald resort town, Gimmelwald ended up a hidden gem, and an absolutely gorgeous, isolated two cable car ride from the base city, where we both wish we could have stayed for an entire six-week stretch. With a population of just over 100 people, not much exists in the town outside of its residents, but one hotel, and one hostel. To buy groceries, it takes another five-minute cable car ride to the next town, suspended over a seemingly infinite drop, but an even more beautiful view of the all encompassing cage of the Alps, shielding us from the outside world.
Via Ferrata trail, Gimmelwald, Switzerland.
Activities there were exclusively hiking; wasting time doing anything else in that area is an inexcusable waste of beauty and time. The highlighted hike of our stopover was a three and a half hour trek of which I could write an entire post. To keep it short and sweet, it was by far the most steep of any hike I have ever experience, and being from Oregon, I have done my fair share of the activity. We began at an elevation of 1,638m from the town of Mürren, to the cable car station of Birg, mapped at 2,677m, and when we narrowly made the car down to the shop from which we rented our boots, both the operator and the shop owner were astounded that we had tackled the high-difficulty trail (much higher than we anticipated) at all based on our lack of experience in the Swiss Alps, let alone the time in which we finished. To say the least we felt quite accomplished, and went on to Italy with an extra load of pride in our packs.