02 May 2011

Bern, Noticed

Bern is not Switzerland's largest city (Zurich) or its most well known (arguably, Geneva), but it is the country's de facto capital. I'm not exactly sure what separates it from being its capital sans the "de facto," but I keep seeing it referred to that way. We haven't been to either of the other aforementioned cities, so there's no way to make a comparison or a stern statement about Bern's supremacy - but, I do think it probably deserves a little more notice than it currently gets.
On a Saturday morning, we planned to visit some museums. There's the apartment Einstein lived in when developing his theory of relativity. The are world class art museums. But with the weather and the city being so darn pretty, we just wound up wandering around. In the span of an hour, we saw teenagers brown bagging it at the Rosengarten, a juggling mime, an accordion player, 20-somethings advertising "FREE HUGS" and a quartet of yodelers who chose their street locations with acoustic savvy. We couldn't tell if this was just an average weekend for Bernies or if something special was infusing the goings on with festiveness. Either way, the city just oozed character.
We climbed up the highest cathedral in Switzerland to get a good look at the whole Saturday scene. Bern consistently ranks in the top 10 cities, worldwide, with the best standard of living. Looking down on this family naptime alongside the river Aare, I could believe it. Seriously, though, there's under 4% unemployment and over 73% of the population have a university degree or higher. Momma Switzerland must be proud. No wonder its her 'de facto' favorite.
Just our luck, a Saturday market stretched through half of the city's streets. Billed as a "Fruit, Vegetable and Flower Market," it also included dried meats, baked goods, tapenades, jams and lots of cheese. The cheese carts were odorrific and showcased French and Spanish prizes alongside the abundant Swiss selection. We decided to direct our eyes and noses toward the flora, where vendors gathered magnificent bouquets while making small talk.
It was second nature for them to just grab a sprig of this to compliment a bunch of that and hand over something luscious and beautiful to a happy customer. It's moments like this that make you wish you had a home with a table and a vase so that you could fill it (and the fridge) with all the market had to offer. People rode their bikes away with paper cones filled with lilacs strapped to the back or loaded apples into the carriage next to their baby. Some men napped in parked cars with the trunks popped open in anticipation of their wives' return with full arms.
Like everywhere else in Switzerland, the best views of the marketplace were most likely aerial. This little Swiss Mister seemed to have picked out exactly what he wanted most, while his booster chair/father shopped for asparagus. Spargeln (as its called in German, the language spoken in this region of Switzerland) has been everywhere. Between them and the lilacs, it definitely feels like we are at the height of Spring.
At the bus station, a man handed out balloons to anyone that would take them - and we watched in dismay as one, then another, then another were carelessly let go into the air. Some kid's weak grasp or teenager's boredom with holding onto the thing just choked a whale in an ocean somewhere. Such a shame. This woman waited for the next red cable car to arrive.

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