Travelling to Bern Switzerland With a Small Dog – Part 2
On traveling to Bern Switzerland with a small dog; last week, I introduced you to the lovely Old Town of the city of Bern and took you on the first half of our walking tour. And, man, have we already covered some ground! We saw the towers, the cool architecture, numerous churches, the fountains and statues, and let’s not forget the scenic view from atop the hill near the Rose Garden.
I’m just going to go right back to the Rose Garden and pick-up where we left off, having lunch. That work for you, Dear Reader? Excellent!
After our lovely picnic lunch in the sun, we said our farewell to the view and perfume-scented air and walked back down the hill, following the same path we took coming up. I was getting excited at this point because I had overheard Mom say to Dad that she was ambivalent about our next stop. I couldn’t wait to see why. What could make her feel that way?
We crossed an intersection and came to the entrance of the BärenPark, or Bern Bear Park. (Say that a few times in a row. I just bark it ‘cause that’s what it sounds like to me!)
See, bears have been kept in Bern since 1513. Until 1857, the poor creatures were kept in the city proper in small cages and then a little later, in a bear pit, called the Bärengraben. The pit is still there and is now the entrance to the guided tour of the Bear Park. I looked in from the top and I have to say, I kinda felt sorry for those poor bears of the past.
The new enclave built in 2009 is considerably better! The “bear residence” is built on steeply sloping land between the Bärengraben (the old bear pit) and the bank of the River Aare. The Bärengraben and BärenPark were once linked by a tunnel, which allowed the bears to make use of both spaces. But, the bears didn’t use the old pit, so now it is used instead to give access to the Bärengraben’s shop and to provide a performance space for children’s education.
I must admit, the new bear residence is a beautiful spot and decently large. The bears have a lot to keep them busy. They have a long and wide pool, lots of trees, and grottos dug into the hills. The grottos are larger inside than they appear outside, and they have lots of tunnels for the bears to enjoy. There is a tour you can take of the grottos’ internal structure but since that wasn’t pet friendly and outside of the Bear Park, we opted to stick to the sunny outdoors. And I am glad we did!
First of all, there were loads of stairs for me to enjoy! And then, looking through the glass barrier, across the moat, I got to see all THREE of the bear residents! Oh, and let me tell you, they looked like a lazy bunch.
There was Finn, snoozing in the entrance of his tunnel, totally soaking up the sun on his muzzle. I always appreciate a good sun bath and envied him momentarily.
Then we spotted Bjork and Ursina! These two were in a more shaded area, right where the Bear Park meets the Untertorbrucke (the Lower Gate Bridge). Now those two have the art of napping down to an science! I took some mental notes!
By the way if you want to sneak a peek you can, there are webcams set-up.
Keeping bears in what still remains a bear pit (although far fancier) has led to many complaints from animal activists in the area. This, as well as new legal requirements, has prompted the newest upgrade, which is underway (2015). Still I could hear the bipeds saying what I was thinking: Bears are wild animals and not domesticated like we dogs. These noble beasts should be living free in the wild. *sigh*
We left the bears to their sunbathing. The sun was starting to make things positively hot. It was October, so the weather was a little bit of a surprise. The bipeds peeled off their coats and walked about in short sleeved tops! Not that anyone was complaining.
We made our way over the Untertorbrucke. (The Untertorbrucke once had a huge tower and a gate for collecting tolls, thus its name “Lower Gate Bridge.”) Once over the bridge, we took a slight turn to the left and followed the river’s bank to take a different road back to the old town.
We stumbled upon a pretty mansion known as the Erlacherhof. We almost missed it, hiding there behind its big black wrought iron gate. That gate is there because the Erlacherhof is the official seat of the mayor and thus not open to the public. The Erlacherhof started as a home when it was built in 1745 and then served as a school and an embassy and a few other things before it became the mayor’s place. The Erlacherhof is special in that it is the only home in the Old Town to have a courtyard rather than an entrance right at the sidewalk, street, or arcade like everyone else.
As we walked onwards, we came across the Bern Minster, the Cathedral of Bern. It’s impossible to miss really. The Cathedral’s tower is the highest point in the Old Town. In fact, I had already spotted the tower clearly from the Rose Garden. The tower dominates everything around it.
The Cathedral is a strictly no-canines-inside establishment (like most places of worship), but it’s worth the hand off. There is a LOVELY bench just outside the main entrance where you can sit and relax, sheltered from rain should there be any. I did some sunbathing with Mom and then Dad.
Speaking of the main gate … woa! The detailed Last Judgment just above the door? Holy smokes! Something else, I assure you! As for the interior, I will have to take the bipeds’ word for it. Apparently the vaulted ceiling is spectacular and particularly ornate. There are loads of altars; the choir stall is carved with all sorts of wonderful figures; the organ is impressive; and the stained glass windows—even from what I could see from the outside—are pretty stellar.
After my rest, we followed our map—yup, from the information office near the train station—and found the outdoor elevators that are there to help people move up and down from a section of the Old Town built right on the river’s banks to where we were currently standing. I had not realized until then that there was such a sharp drop off on the north side of town!
We didn’t take the elevators because time was passing far too quickly and we wanted to walk along the ridge, enjoying a multitude of little parks and courtyards. We heard a musician play, which alerted us to a nice little coffee shop. We settled in on the terrace under the always-present arcade for a quick snack: coffee and a delightful flan, lemon tart, and … a Berliner to go!
(I mentioned in my last post but it’s worth mentioning again that Bern’s residents built their houses and shops with arcades on the front. The residents could then enlarge their houses without having to buy more land and the shops offered patrons cover in poor weather.)
After our snack, we found a courtyard with all kinds of fun outdoor activities available to whoever may pass. There were ping pong tables, outdoor chess sets, backgammon boards, and a little grassy spot surrounded by miniature shrubbery. You can have your ping pong tables and games; I was allowed off-leash on the grassy spot and ran and ran like a madman!
From there, we passed the Casino and its square. We aren’t into any of that so after admiring the pretty building, we made our way to the last major site on our route: the parliament building.
“What?” I hear you asking. “I thought Geneva or Zurich was the capital of Switzerland?”
Remember I told you in my first post that Bern is the capital of Switzerland? It may seem odd that little Bern is the capital instead of a larger, international city, but Bern is the place the Swiss refer to as the “Bundesstadt” (federal city). For that reason, many people prefer to call the beautiful parliament building, the “Federal Palace.” It’s semantics really. Let me give it to you straight: The Federal Palace is the name of the building in which the Swiss Federal Assembly (federal parliament) and the Federal Council are housed. The Federal Palace consists of a central parliament building and two wings housing a variety of government departments and a library.
(Harumph! My sister-mom-editor just reminded me that many people think Toronto is the capital of Canada because Toronto is the biggest city, but it’s not. My hometown—not-so-big Ottawa—is the capital. Hey! Maybe that means that Ottawa and Bern are like city cousins!)
Anyway, what mattered to us was the actual building. It’s really beautiful, Dear Reader. The south side of the building hangs over the ridge complete with an extended courtyard and art. There are statues everywhere, carved into the walls and over doors and in alcoves. I especially like the one of the Three Confederates. The style used was interesting; it reminded me a little of the Soviet statues I had seen at the war museum in Sofia, Bulgaria. We tried to locate the water jet statue of the jumping dog but with no luck. That bummed me out. I SO had a photo op pose ready for that!
By then, the sun was starting to set and our tummies were grumbling. It was time to return to Zurich. We found a small grocery store where Dad popped in quickly to get some snacks. And then we caught our train. The entire ride back, we shared our favourite moments, looking over photos on our cameras. One thing was certain: Bern had been a great choice for the day and Mom got to see somewhere she hadn’t been in Switzerland even though she had lived there for four years. Bern had been the “one that got away” of sorts … but no longer. Traveling to Bern Switzerland with a small dog is totally worth it.