We had to sadly farewell the Swiss Alps and head to France, but we had one last cold day in the snow, while we explored the beautiful city of Bern.
We needed an early start to the day, with a train out of Lauterbrunnen at 8.30am but the kids outdid themselves by being up around 6am. With a long day ahead (we were not scheduled to get into Lyon, France until 10pm that night) and we could all good have done with some more sleep.
For once we were all breakfasted, had the apartment cleaned up all had coats, gloves and scarves on by 7.30am. It was rather chilly outside but the kids were raring to get out so we ended up going to stand at the bus stop at 8am, 20 mins before the bus was due. The walk into the train station is only around 15 minutes but with bags and walking through snow we were definitely catching the bus. Unfortunately at that time of day the buses only run hourly so we didn’t really have the option of an earlier bus. We were hoping for one of the extra shuttle buses to turn up, and what did you know, 5 mins before our bus was due, one labeled ‘extrafahrt’ turned up and we jumped on. Now used to the random extra services put on (for we assume all the skiers) we just used them since they seemed to do the same loop as the regular buses. Some of the skiers seemed confused (obviously newbies) but we told them to just get on, all buses end up at the train station anyway.
The ‘extrafahrt’ bus was even better since it didn’t stop at the other stops so we got to the train station quickly, giving us a couple of extra minutes to make our train to Interlaken Ost. The train was predictably on time and the 20-odd minutes to Interlaken was uneventful, but scenic as we passed so much snow.
We had a quick change at Interlaken and onto our train to Bern (which was much less busy than the train from Bern on the way in). We then had to bid a sad farewell to the Swiss Alps, but we still had one last day in Switzerland and then a full week in France, so plenty to look forward to!
It was a bit under an hour to Bern and we were all really tired after a busy few days in the alps so there was some mindless staring out the window at the snow, which was getting heavier and heavier. The kids were definitely tired and it didn’t bode well for a long day. When we went through Bern a few days back it looked glorious with snow cover and beautiful sun. As we pulled in this time it was snowing, grey and miserable.
We arrived in Bern just before 10am and went and found some luggage lockers and tried to jam our bags into them in the most economical way. It still cost a vast fortune. As pretty as Switzerland is, we were looking forward to the ever so slightly cheaper prices in France. With all but our 2 day bags stored away we headed out into the cold and snow.
The plan for the morning was to head up to Gurten, the Bern mountain. The well-researched plan was to buy a day ticket for public transport but we’d ever so efficiently locked our Swiss half-fare cards in our luggage lockers, meaning we decided to play cheap and buy single trip tickets and walk everywhere else. Once we got our tickets and figured out which tram and direction we wanted, we were up at Gurten fairly efficiently.
There was certainly decent snow cover, and some still falling from the sky. Poor Soren had fallen asleep on the tram but was in a front carry in the ergo and was pulling on my sore neck and shoulders after all the snow mishaps the last few days. I still wasn’t going to wake him up though!
To get up to Gurten we had to catch a funicular, it had been at least 18 hours since our last funicular! Of course we had needed either the day ticket or half fare card to get discounted entry to the Gurtenbahn. The ticket officer seemed to be not all that interested in customer service but just sold us return tickets at the half fare price without seeing the cards.
We just missed one funicular so had a 10 minute wait for the next one, while Soren napped. It was a 5 minute ride up to the top station (with one station in between). Lots of people were getting on with sleds but we had returned our sled and had vetoed buying one and carting it with us.
We got out at the top of the hill and it was snowing quite a bit, and it was quite grey and misty. There were lots of kids out sledding both on the long run and the little kids hill.
We walked around and had a look at all the cool metal sculptures and the dinosaur covered in snow. There was plenty of stuff to look at, and a miniature cog railway, which only ran on Sundays unfortunately. There were quite a few playgrounds but most were covered in snow.
We walked around and looked at the views and observation tower (that we declined to climb as we wouldn’t see anything and we were all tired). We also couldn’t see the promised views over Bern due to the now heavy snow.
We were all getting rather covered in snow so thought it might be wise to head inside. The restaurants looked nice but were very pricey, so all a bit cold we headed back down the funicular and via tram back into town.
Back in the city, we wandered around looking for somewhere for lunch, all now hungry after an early breakfast and being out in the cold and snow. We found a cafe that looked OK in Barenplatz, we of course later found better things but it was convenient and warm at the time.
All the adults decided to have potato rosti’s with egg, since we hadn’t yet tried them while in Switzerland. The boys had a mixed rosti with bacon and onion, and I had a Florentine with spinach and mozzarella. The menu had pictures and the kids spied the kids schnitzel with chips and Astrid wanted to order her own, since she thought her German was now good enough. Soren was chanting ‘want that’ while pointing to the picture of the kinder schnitzel. So they of course got kinder schintzel!
After lunch we’d warmed up and it was time to head out and explore Bern. We decided we’d do a bit of a self-guided walking tour. Mikl was in charge of the map so he was our official tour guide for the afternoon. It had now mostly stopped snowing and was more pleasant than the morning had been. Our first stop was the very frosty fountains in Barenplatz, outside the lunch restaurant and the Parliament building.
The Old Town of Bern is the city center of Bern. Built on a narrow hill surrounded on three sides by the Aare River, its compact layout has remained essentially unchanged since its construction during the 12th to the 15th century. Despite a major fire in 1405, after which much of the city was rebuilt in sandstone, and substantial construction efforts in the 18th century, Bern’s old city has retained its medieval character. Bern is particularly well-known for its collection of fountains. There are over 100 public fountains in the city of Bern of which eleven are crowned with Renaissance allegorical statues. The statues were created during the period of civic improvement that occurred as Bern became a major city-state during the 16th century. The fountains were originally built as a public water supply. It was fun trying to identify each fountain and guess how they got their name.
Many of the fountains were in the middle of the street, with trams criss-crossing both sides, so it made it challenging to check them all out. The streets were also rather snowy and icy. Most fountains had large grates in front of them with water flowing underneath, and large water pits. Most of the fountains were well and truly icy and frozen.
Our first stop was the Clock Tower (Zytlogge), built in the early 13th century, and the Musketeer fountain, which was fairly easy to identify. We thought the large number of underground shops, with what looked like storm doors on them were something different. At first they were easy to miss and then we started seeing them everywhere.
Also near the clock tower, there was the ‘Ogre’ fountain and the ‘Zähringerbrunnen’ fountain. The Zähringerbrunnen was built in 1535 as a memorial to the founder of Bern, Berchtold von Zähringer. The statue is a bear in full armor, with another bear cub at his feet. The bear represents the bear, that according to legend, Berchtold shot on the Aare peninsula as he was searching for a site to build a city.
Next stop was the Rathaus (town hall) and the church of St Peter and Paul.
Then we were off past the Justice fountain, the messenger fountain and the Nydegg church. This is one of the prettiest areas in Bern, with lovely little cobblestone streets and pretty houses.
At this point we found ourselves down by the River Aare. The River is hard to miss as it runs through the centre of the Old Town. In total the river is 295km long but is contained entirely within Switzerland. The turquoise green colour and snowy banks lined with beautiful buildings, made it one of the prettiest sites in all of Bern. The building roofs all had a dusting of snow, so we got the picture-postcard views as we headed over the Nydegg Bridge (Nydeggbrucke).
The Bärengraben, or Bear Pit, is a major tourist attraction in Bern. It is situated at the eastern edge of the Old Town, next to the Nydeggbrucke and on the banks of the River Aare. Although still in use, the Bärengraben has been supplemented since 2009 by the adjacent BärenPark, a larger and more natural enclosure alongside the River. There is no charge to see the bears in the Bärengraben, as it is deemed a Swiss heritage site of national significance. In Bern, bears are of particular significance because the bear is a symbol of both the city and surrounding canton, and is featured in the coat of arms.
Soren and Astrid had been extremely excited to see the bears, but when we arrived at the Bärengraben the bears were on their Winter rest so we just got to see where they lived. A sign indicating a webcam made us think we had some chance of seeing them sleep but we couldn’t locate it. At any rate both kids enjoyed having their photo taken with the fake bear statues and checking out the snowy enclosures. The newer enclosures along the edge of the River, certainly looked like a nice place to live.
We bid farewell to the snoozing bears and headed back over the river. We were treated to a very musical walk as many church bells were ringing for quite some time. It looked like it was for a funeral as we saw a funeral procession passing over the bridge.
Back over the river, we headed towards the Grossmünster Cathedral, and Münsterplatz. The park area outside the Cathedral was very snowy and had quite a few pieces of play equipment, including a snowy sandpit, that we had to forcibly keep Astrid out of. It also had fabulous views back over the River.
As we finished our walking loop, we went past the Bagpiper Fountain, Moses Fountain, the Swiss Alpine museum and the Dutch Quarter.
By 4pm we had seen most of what we wanted, and were tired of walking so wanted to find a cafe to sit down for a coffee and rest of the legs. We found lots of lovely patisseries but none with seats. We finally found a cafe with seating and ordered coffees and a hot chocolate and used up our remaining Swiss Franc change on one pastry. We did however, score some bonus chocolates, possibly due to kiddies trying on the ‘cute card’.
After our coffees we decided to get our dinner supplies from the same place as they did interesting salads and sandwiches and we were too tired to bother going elsewhere. We had a long night ahead on trains, so needed some supplies to keep us going. I got an orange and brocoli salad and the boys got freshly made roast beef sandwiches with caramelised onion, sprintz cheese, and relish sauce. We also got more free chocolates from the waitress, as she wanted us to remember Switzerland fondly, and purchased some more of the pastries as they were good (and we were now using credit card).
We walked back over to the Central station, but past the main tram stop we had been to that morning, which has a very cool roof!
We headed into the train station to retrieve all our luggage, with an extra few bags of dinner food, just to make the process that much easier! We located our platform and had about a half hour wait for our train through to Geneva. This train had been booked on 2 different tickets due to annoyances with the booking system, so Mikl and Alan were 4 carriages away from the rest of us, much to their delight.
The train left just after 5.30pm and the kids were thrilled that we had been seated in the kinderwagen which had its own playground with a boat and a bridge! The kids were in heaven but it did mean that they flatly refused to rest, as we had hoped. It is pretty hard to argue with a playground on a train though. We did enforce eating of their dinner ham sandwich (which they removed the salad from) before being permitted to play. It also meant we had a pretty peaceful journey while the entertained themselves.
The ticket inspector came around just before the end of the train leg and checked our tickets. When purchasing the tickets we’d been charged for the kids tickets for this section of the trip (we presumed because we had to pay for Astrid in the connecting France leg). Apparently this was incorrect and the ticket inspector decided to refund us, which was a complicated procedure as we didn’t want Swiss Francs as we were leaving Switzerland, and we didn’t have the correct amount of Euro change. Eventually a kind fellow passenger donated the missing 3 Euro and it was the first time we’ve ever gotten money back on a train (even if we had paid for it in the first place).
Before long we were off the train in Geneva and had a lazy 12 minutes to change to our connecting train through to Lyon, France that left at 7.30pm. We located Mikl and Alan along with the rest of our bags and they’d had a relatively peaceful trip through to Geneva, but didn’t get a boat in their carriage!.
Our next train wasn’t too busy and we found a group of seats together and tried to get the kids to rest as it had been a rather long day. Astrid was asleep in about 5 minutes, but Soren was clearly over-tired and was being much less compliant. In the end we put him in the ergo to stop the octopus antics and I eventually won the battle as he went to sleep on me.
After a long evening we arrived into Lyon about 9.20pm. We had decided to get a taxi to the accommodation since a minimum of 2 buses or metros at that time of night, not knowing where we were, wasn’t appealing. We managed to score a maxi-taxi for first time on trip, but it still wasn’t a particularly cheap trip. Due to a lot of 1-way streets we seemed to go around in circles a lot but we did eventually get there.
The bonus of our extended journey was that we got to see the city all lit up. Lyon is very pretty at night with all the lights along the rivers and up the hills. I was certainly keen to explore the city the next day, with camera in hand.
Our apartment was ready and waiting for us when we arrived. Again we were up 3 enormous flights of stairs, which is never fun with the luggage and kids, but the views from the apartment were worth it. There was also a bottle of red waiting for us. Yep, we’d arrived in France! It was almost 11pm by the time we all got to bed although the kids had thankfully crashed 10 minutes after finding their beds.
Statistics for Tuesday the 19th of January, 2016 – the morning started in Lauterbrunnen in the Swiss Alps at a cold minus 12 degrees! We spent most of the day in Bern, Switzerland starting at minus 7 degrees and sitting at minus 3 degrees for most of the day. Curiously, we actually felt warm! We ended the day in Lyon, France where it as a positively tropical 2 degrees. The total walking for the day was 13.5km and again Astrid walked all of it!