Monday, 24 April 2017

Swiss Holiday - Part 5 - Basel and Home

The Beautiful city of Bern.

Bern Bears marching on a fountain.
Sunshine after the snow.
It had snowed overnight and the weather the next day was glorious - sun and snow in the perfect combination! I headed out of the house full of excitement, heading straight for the river and the Bear Plaza to see if the famous Bern Bears were up and about. The bear has long been the symbol of the city - Duke Berthold V of Zähringen vowed to choose as namesake the first animal his hunt met in the wood that was to be chopped down for his new city. It was written: "Then they caught a bear first, which is why the city was called Bern; and so the citizens had their coat and shield, which was a black bear in a white shield, going upright." There are so many bears all over the city, fountains and paintings and on shields and buildings, some in armour or with weapons, so the 800 year old promise of a Duke is still standing and the city loves their bears. The first bears were kept in the city from the 16th Century - the Bernese returned home from a successful battle, carrying captured standards and living bears as the spoils of war and the bear pit was built. In 1798, the city of Bern was attacked and taken by French troops and the bears were abducted and taken to Paris, but returned in 1810. The Bärenplatz was opened in 1857 to the public and is still here, although now there is a new, modern bear enclosure, and in 2009, to commemorate the first Russian State visit to Switzerland, 2 bears were given as gifts to the city. I didn't see any bears though as they were busy sleeping - I don't blame them either. Although sunny, it was still cold, just over 0c, and the middle of Winter. The enclosure has set up web cams for live feeds of the beers, and I watched, just like the other kids there, with a smile on my face as the bears slept the day away, cuddled up together.

Bears and clocks.

Bern Bear Park - the furry critters are sleeping the day away though.

The Bern Zytglogge.
The entrance to the Cathedral.
The Zytglogge is a landmark medieval tower in the old town of Bern, and something you can't miss. Built in the early 13th century, it's served the city as guard tower, prison, clock tower, centre of urban life and civic memorial. It reminded me of the clock in Prague and Strasbourg as this tower has a 15th Century Astrological clock, telling you not only the time but also the position of the sun, moon and the Zodiac constellations. Built around 1218-20, the tower itself served as the gate tower for the city's western defences until the walls were extended in the mid 14th Century. It was then converted to a women's prison for "faffendirnen" or "priests' whores", women convicted of sexual relations with clerics. It was burnt out completely during the great fire of 1405 and only fully renovated by the end of 1983. The clock was installed in the early 1400s and the large bell cast in 1405 and the tower gained it's name 'Zytglogge,' which means "Time Bell" in Bernese German. The tower sits right on the main shopping street of the city, people walk under the arch (past a pretzel shop) and trams and cars pass beside it. The Käfigturm is the second tower in the city and the second medieval tower for the city, forming part of the old walls. It was built in 1255 as Berns first line of defence, the first being the Zytglogge, but in 1345 it took a secondary roll as the city expanded again and another gatehouse was built. Now it's part of the shopping district, and is flanked by Starbucks and other signs on modern life. Everything changes.

The Bern Zytglogge - a Medieval marvel of engineering! It tells the time, position of the sun, moon and the Zodiac!

Bern's Minster with it's intricate doorway arch.

Bern Minster.
Crossing the Kirchenfeldbrücke bridge.
The Bern Minster is also in the city centre and worth a visit. The entrance of the cathedral is intricately designed and full of tiny figures and patterns, but the building isn't really a normal 'church shape,' instead it seems like a big square block with a tower on the top, but then again it was hard to see as it was surrounded by buildings. I wasn't able to go inside but the view from the outside was enough - I've learned from Swiss churches that usually the outside is much better than the inside, but I was disappointed as the interior is supposedly very beautiful. The Minster is a Gothic church, build around 1421 and reaches a height of 100m, making it visible from most parts of the city and also the tallest church in the country. The Old Medieval Town is a wonderful place for a walk and explore - so many little corners, paths, hidden streets and little treasures everywhere. I continually found new parts of the cities, new fountains and statues, small churches, and best of all, no tourists or even many locals - it's like I had the city all to myself!

The balancing bear sculpture at the Bern Bear Park.

Bears are the city's animal and there are statues and fountains everywhere with them. I like this curious little guy.

Mountains and meadows in Lauterbrunnen.
Bern truly is a beautiful city.
I have really fallen in love with this amazing city - it's relaxed yet cool and happening, beautiful but not over the top, small but big enough to keep you busy and exploring - I had even started listening to the local Radio Bernese and still listen to it over the internet now I'm back when I miss Switzerland a little. A short trip from the city and I was back in the countryside for a bit of a walk - just outside Bern is Lauterbrunnen. This little town is beautifully Swiss - wooden houses, firewood stacked up against the shed for the open fire in Winter, bright window shutters, Christmas decorations, old wooden skis and large metal bells hanging up outside the door and cows in the fields - idyllic. Lauterbrunnen literally means "many fountains," and is called this because it has 72 waterfalls in the valley that surrounds the town. 

Snowy rooftops and snowy mountains.

Bern at sunset - my favourite city in Switzerland!

Frozen waterfall.
Frozen river.
Parking in the town, we heading off on a walk through the meadows, marvelling at the soaring cliffs on either side - but what was really impressive were the frozen waterfalls and glacier sitting at the end of the valley! Although it was Winter, this year in Switzerland had so far been very dry, with very little snow, and not as cold as usual - cold enough for me and just cold enough to freeze lakes and waterfalls.The Trümmelbach Falls in the ‘Black Monk’ mountains, is a big tourist attraction in the area. Up to 20,000 litres of water per second cascade over the ten glacier falls from a total height of about 200 metres - this is the largest subterranean waterfall in Europe. Unfortunately, this spectacle can only be reached in summer by a tunnel lift which takes you deep into the mountain. It will have to be put on the list for next time. This place must be truly glorious in Spring and Summer - already it was amazing, a valley full of traditional farms, stark blue sky contrasted by deep shadows cast from the tall peaks - in a few months it will be all lush green grass in the fields, new-born lambs and calves, and then to top that off, raging waterfalls pouring down the rock face. On the way back to Bern we passed Interlaken, a popular resort town built on a lake. The drive back was very scenic - lakes, huge snow covered mountains and the sunset. This country really does have it all (apart from coastline), and it would take a long time to explore all it's secrets. If I were to think of downsides to living in this country it would be only one - the cost. The weather is cold and snowy in Winter, but everything is built for this and so you're never really uncomfortable, but to live here is very, very expensive - much like Australia - and if you don't earn enough, life can be very tough. You do get what you pay for though and services are very good.

A farm house in Lauterbrunnen, with the best backyard in the World!

Christmas decorations.

Basel Town Hall.
Elegant House in Basel.
Heading back to the city for my last day in Bern before heading off to Basel for a day and a half. The train would take about 2 hours to get to Basel, which would be fine - sitting on a Swiss train, cruising through the countryside for a few hours didn't bother me at all! The price was a bit steep, something that I was getting used to, but it needed to be done. The snow had started falling that morning, and continued as I boarded the train. Does snow affect trains, like it can do with planes? I'd been stuck in Milan once due to snow on the runway, the flight cancelled, and once also in Poland but they knew what they were doing here and sprayed down the plane with some sort of anti-freeze liquid and off we went. The train left on time and hurtled along as the snow got worse. Getting out of the station was like walking into another World - snow was coming down thick and mushy, people rushing about their business, and me with not enough clothes on for this weather. I found my hostel fairly easily and on the walk the weather started to improve - the wet snow stopped, a blue sky peeked out from behind the clouds and the sun started shining! I checked in, dumped my stuff and heading straight out into the city to explore - it was already about 1pm and today was my only day here, so I needed to make the most of the time and respite in weather. Before I left the hostel though, the guy at the front desk gave me a travel card, allowing me free travel around the city on buses and trams, even for my bus tomorrow for the airport! Wow! Walk and see the city, jump on a warm tram and move around if it starts snowing again or I get too lazy/lost.

Welcome to Basel!
Basel and the Rhine River.

A cute house tucked away.
City of trams.
Basel seemed a little more like a "normal" city to me - people were going about their days, going to work, shopping, walking the streets with their kids - much more than Bern did. It could have been the time of year, everyone had gone back to work after New Years, or maybe because Bern was so special. Either way, I liked Basel straight away - the walk from my hostel to the tram station was one I enjoyed. Cute and quiet streets with interesting houses and buildings, polite drivers, little cafes and shops with lovely windows - a generally nice little place. It's the third most populous city after Zürich  and Geneva, and sits right where Switzerland, Germany and France meet - even having suburbs in all 3 counties. It has a medieval city centre focused around the main square, Markplatz, and boasts a 12th Century Gothic cathedral, which holds the tomb of Erasmus of Rotterdam, the oldest university in The Swiss Confederation (dated at 1460), as well as a 16th Century Town Hall. The city has been a commercial hub and important cultural centre since the Renaissance, and is now a big player in the chemical and pharmaceutical industry, which can be clearly seen by the factories in and around the city. This city is compact but has it all! I jumped on a tram and watched the streets and people pass by, not really knowing where I was going apart from into the centre, and I would just get off when I felt like it. Not having a map, and not really caring, I got off the tram when I saw something interesting, and just walked in the direction that seemed the right way to go at the time.

The Basel Town Hall.

Basel's 'red' Town Hall.

Hopp Basel!
The crazy/beautiful Town Hall.
Wandering the streets, admiring the beautiful stone buildings and shopfronts, I found the Town Hall by accident. When Basel joined the Confederation in 1501, the city decided to replace the existing building for something more grander and impressive. A hundred years later the building was still being added to, and by 1899 Basel had grown so large that it needed yet more upgrading. The result is an amazing, eclectic building from different architectural periods, and nothing short of attention grabbing either. I'm not even sure where to being to describe it! It's a large, bright red building that demands all the attention away from the other buildings in the square, and rightly so. The facade is highly decorated with paintings of important Swiss figures, arches with shields above them, split windows of different sizes, a huge tower reaching for the sky with green, white and red tiles, smaller towers in each corner, crenellations each with shields emblazoned with the flags of Swiss cities, and to top that off, a shining gold spire in the centre of the roof. I stood outside for ages, looking, mouth open, at the sheer boldness and craziness of this construction. It is over the top yet beautiful and incredible - a purely unique building. As you walk through the main entrance, under an arch, to your right you see a larger-than-life statue of Munatius Plancus, the founder of the Roman city of Augusta Rautica (10kms from Basel). It is still used today when Cantonal Parliament comes together to discuss important issues twice a month, but I think it is now more of a tourist attraction than anything, as only a dozen or so people are needed to run the place.

Sunshine after the snow.

The beautifully decorated Town Hall.

Food good enough for kings... or not!
The Roman founder of the city.
Crossing Basel's Mittlere Brücke, a 13th Century bridge and oldest in the city, I walked over the Rhine river and onto the other side of the city. Sadly, people had started putting padlocks on a part of the bridge, declaring their love for each other - it looks nice and sounds sweet, but the people in Paris wouldn't have liked it! The Pont des Artes had 45 tonnes (1 million of the bloody things) removed in 2015 after a part-collapse. This side was far quieter, but afforded great views of the main part of the city nestling the river. The bridge is actually not the original from the 1200s unfortunately - with the invent and installation of trams a new one was needed. The replacement was built from scratch from stone to look like the the old one and was named "Mittlere Rheinbrücke," because at that time Basel had three bridges that spanned the Rhine and this was the middle one. The sun was getting a little lower, but more worrying than that were the big clouds coming in. I headed back to the hostel for an early dinner. I made it just in time as the snow started coming down and the cold dark of Winter in January set in. After my meal, the weather was still cold but it had stopped snowing, so I was back out in the city, this time heading for the cathedral. Built out of red sandstone, it stands out from the other buildings, even more so with its coloured tiles. It was built between 1019 and 1500 in Romanesque and Gothic styles, the late Romanesque building was destroyed by the 1356 Basel earthquake and rebuilt by Johannes Gmünd, who was at the same time employed for building the Freiburg Münster. Although at this time I wasn't able to go in, it was something to see from the outside. I sat behind the church on a small view point, a popular selfie spot unfortunately, but it was nice to sit here, in relative quiet, and watch the city lights, see the trams and cars cross the bridges, and appreciate my last night here in Switzerland.

The fad of love -padlocks is starting to get annoying.

Selfie time - or as group shots are called, 'usies.'

Basel Cathedral.
Basel by night.
I returned cold but not miserable - I'd had a great day here in Basel, and a wonderful 2 weeks in total. Mountains and cities, hiking, sightseeing, NYE in the capital, train ride though the snow. I was happy. I went to bed with a smile on my face. This smile was travel happiness! It was also because the beds in this country are so warm and cosy! I took my bus to the airport the next morning (free thanks to the hostel travel pass), boarded my flight and went home back to Barcelona. I've vowed to myself to return in Spring or Summer and spend more time here. Unfortunately my holidays were over and I had to go back home and to work. I'm very lucky that I get to travel so much, I really have quite a bit, but at the same time I don't think it's luck - yes, I teach English as a native speaker, which makes it easier, but it's still taken a lot of hard work, time and money to do it. If you want to travel, or even just really do something, work hard and follow your dreams.

Watching the trams go over the bridge.

Bridges over the Rhine.

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MyUncleTravellingMatt. December 2016.

Birthday Weekend

The always impressive Pedraforca. Just beautiful! Hiking with a touch of snow. Winter was setting in by November, and although ...