Whether through the exhaustion of traveling, or the effects of pregnancy, I was sick most of the night. Thankfully, I have a wonderful husband who made sure that I was as comfortable as possible. However, having both of us up for a good majority of the night resulted in us sleeping through our alarms, and missing church the next morning. When we travel, we always try to make it to church. There is just something so comforting about being in a different place, but seeing that the church is still run in the same manner as everywhere else in the world; the same doctrines, same structure, and the same ordinances.
Because we felt like we needed to still get some spirituality into our day despite missing a church meeting, we took a train about 20 minutes out of Bern to see the LDS Temple. As it was Sunday, we were not able to go in, however we did enjoy talking to members that were still at the church building next to the temple. The LDS Church also owns the land around the temple, which included a wooded area with a walking path. Kyle and I enjoyed our short stroll around the temple, while having our own little church time, then had to head out to catch our train back into Bern.
It was a happy coincidence that the train never showed up. Between looking up schedules on my phone and having it be the weekend there must have been some discrepancy. That’s how we happened to get on a bus that would take us back to the same location a train would, but went in a more round about way. It was this little change in plans that really made my day. The bus took us through the pastoral countryside, filled with classically Swiss homes, cows grazing, and acres of greenery.
Before we left on this trip, I decided to do some searching into my family history. I always knew that I had some Swiss ancestry, but little did I know that I am almost half Swiss. Almost all of my ancestors from my Mom’s side of the family come from Switzerland, and more particularly, Bern and Zurich. As I was sitting on that bus watching the landscape pass by, I suddenly felt an amazing connection to my heritage. My ancestors lived in areas like this, farmed the land, and may have walked in the same places I was going to walk that day. With all that in mind, I felt overwhelmingly grateful that they were faithful enough to leave such a beautiful and peaceful area to travel to the United States for their beliefs. It was an incredibly difficult sacrifice, to be sure. It makes me want to be a better person to show my gratitude for their sacrifice that has benefited me significantly.
Only minutes after we made it back from the temple, we met on a corner near the train station for a free walking tour (the 2 1/2 hour tour path can be seen pictured below). According to our guide, records of settlements in this area date all the way back to 300 – 200 BC, however, 1191 AD is a more commonly known date of when a city first came into existence. The name Bern actually derived from the founder’s first kill on a hunt. Hence, many of the flags, symbols, and crests around Bern show the image of a bear.
The center of the development took place on a plateau in the peninsula of land shaped by the River Aare, thus creating a natural barrier on three sides of the city. The fourth side was protected by a wall to fortress the main city. Throughout the passing of time and expansion of the city, the wall was expanded further out from the peninsula. However, that area remained Old Bern, and the more recently developed land, New Bern.
Currently, Bern is known as the Federal City of Switzerland, though not technically its capital. Near the edge of the old city lies the Federal Palace. This area is also the location of the national bank, and the courtyard in front is placed over the treasury. So, as our guide told us, “you have now stood on the treasure of Switzerland”. The tour then led us down into the lower area of the city along the River Aare. In medieval times, this is where the poor lived, as the area was prone to flooding. We were also told stories of a secret language known as “Miter English”, which was really nothing of the sort but confused the soldiers and aristocracy. After another climb up to the top of the plateau, we were greeted by Cathedral at Munsterplatz, a beautiful cathedral and surrounding park built in the 15th Century.
My favorite part of the tour came near the end as we were approaching the archaic astronomical clock, which was once a part of the original Old Bern gate. Each hour the clock puts on a show; different parts of the clock rotate, a rooster sounds, and a bell is rung to mark the hour. Considering the technology of the 13th Century when this was built, by medieval standards, it is pretty astonishing. Kyle and I also got a good chuckle out of a centuries old tradition. Apparently, Bernese boys cannot call themselves a man unless they urinate on the side of the clock tower. This tradition continues today, but thankfully, there is now a urinal and a stall to prevent any indecency problems that would most certainly arise.
The tour ended soon after, but I couldn’t help but feel such a love for this city. I adored how many people were sitting out in Munsterplatz drinking their beverages, playing games, and chatting with friends. I couldn’t get enough of the cobblestones filled with moss and centuries old dust and worn architecture of the buildings. And, I especially loved the numerous fountains placed sporadically through the city, all of which contained water safe to drink that rivals processed bottled water. Bern may be old, but it charmed me in a way that no other newfangled thing could.
At this point, it was late afternoon. We had been able to survive on a baguette, cheese, and snacks that we had bought days before, but my poor 1st trimester body needed something more substantial. Like our tradition of going to church on Sunday, we also try to not eat out or purchase things on Sunday in order to keep the Sabbath day holy. As much as we had tried to prevent this by trying to find a grocery store the night before, we were unsuccessful as everything had already closed by the time we got there. All that being said, we needed to get something to eat. Though most restaurants were closed between meals, we happened to walk past one that was open, and thankfully relatively inexpensive (most meals we spent at least 30 CHF if not more, even if it was only a sandwich and side). It may have been because we were famished, but it tasted incredibly delicious!
Feeling like we had gotten an excellent look at Bern, we walked back to our ritzy hotel, picked up our packs, and then caught a series of buses and trains to take us to our next destination, Interlaken. We had just walked through a beautiful day, but what we didn’t know then is how much the next day was going to heighten our senses and love of Switzerland.