Switzerland – Murten, Bern and the Alps

Itinerary: 

Dates: September 18-October 5, 2015

Our Odyssey: 

The next morning we were up early for a day of sightseeing –
first in Murten, a small medieval town; then in Bern, the nation’s cosmopolitan
capital.

But first, some background on this land of Switzers. Switzerland
is Europe’s most mountainous country, and nearly half of its land is uninhabitable
Alps. Where there aren’t peaks, there are farms. Linguistically, Switzerland is
the crossroads of languages in Europe, where French, German, Italian, and
Romansh meet in one land-locked (but lake-filled) country.

Switzerland was born with the union of three cantons
(similar to states) in 1291 and now has 26. We know it as Switzerland, the
English word for this country, but to avoid controversy over having to choose
which language to use for the nation’s name within itself, they went with the
Latin Confoederatio Helvetica. Hence,
the “CH” stickers you will see on car bumpers.

Historically speaking, there isn’t much to say about
Switzerland. They’ve been pretty quiet on the international relations scene.  We’ve all heard the joke about Switzerland
being neutral, and it’s true. Switzerland stands alone. They aren’t even a member
of the European Union- though they play by a lot of the EU’s rules, at least
when it comes to trade and commerce, to keep those Swiss francs rolling in.

Ah yes, Swiss francs, and not the Euros we’d been using and
had on hand after the last week and a half of travel. You’d think being
experienced travelers we’d have prepared better, but when we returned to the parking
lot just outside Murten’s town walls, where we’d parked for an hour while we
strolled around town, we found ourselves franc-less. We tried using the parking
machine to pay by credit card, and we even tried putting Euro coins into it,
both to no avail. We went to the grocery store across the street to exchange
our Euros for francs- no go. When we came back out, a man was working on the
parking machine and couldn’t help us either. We tried really hard to pay for
our parking – but in the end we just left through the entrance.

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The town of Murten and its clock tower

 

Murten itself was a lovely way to spend a morning, however,
and the site of one of Switzerland’s few war scenes (appropriately called the
Battle of Murten). Adrian von Bubenberg (pronounced exactly how you think, and
yes, we laughed) was the hero of the day when, in 1476, he stopped Charles the
Bold of Burgundy (in France) and his 20,000 troops from seizing Murten and its
2,000 residents. This weakened Burgundy’s power in the region and established
Switzerland and it’s cantons as a force to be reckoned with in Europe.

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Streets of Murten

The tension between German-speaking and French-speaking
residents during this time is still visible when you compare the two churches
in tow. The French church is small and modest – a result of having to be
rebuilt a few years after having been torn down by the German-speaking
community to get stones for their own church. The German church, while still
simple in true Protestant Reformation style, is much bigger.

Surrounding the town still stand the city ramparts, and
luckily for visitors, they are open and free to the public every day to
explore. It reminded us of our visit to Rothenberg on the Romantic Road in Germany last year, where we were also able to explore medieval town walls.

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Tim and I on the city ramparts

After our short time in Murten we hit the road again and
headed back east to Bern. We used our Rick Steves’ guide book as our expert
leader around the city. We enjoyed the long walk all around the city, passing
by Parliament, quirky and colorful 16th century fountains, and
getting lunch at a Cuban café.

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One of Bern’s colorful fountains

Bern, like many European cities, has an historic clock tower that once was part of the city walls. Bern’s Zytglogge-Turm dates from 1530 and has elements of both Prague’s astronomical clock and Munich’s glockenspiel – for four minutes every hour, the clock comes to “life” while little mechanical figures act out the changing of the time.

 

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Bern’s clock tower

Bern, once home to Einstein during his most productive
years, is also home to a few bears. Similar to the bear pits outside the castle
in Cesky Krumlov, the BarenPark (Bear Park) has contained bears in sad concrete pits since
1857. Thankfully, in 2009, the city opened up a larger, greener space for the
bears along the river. That said, there is something still unsettling to me see
bears, or any animal, in captivity for the amusement of humans. And yet, we
still stopped to watch the bears for a while- they are really beautiful animals
and I understand why people want to watch them.

Leaving Bern we drove southeast towards Interlaken, parked
our car in a garage in Lauterbrunnen, and took a cable car followed by a
rickety train to the small town of Murren. We stayed at a fantastic little
hotel called Hotel Alpenblick, in a room with a balcony facing the stunning
Jungfrau mountain range. Just sitting in our room after checking in, I kept
looking outside- I couldn’t get over the amazing view of seeing alpine peaks so
close and so clearly.

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The view from our balcony in Murren

That night we got dinner a few minutes’ walk away
(everything in this town is a few minutes’ walk away). We got a bottle of local
wine, a pizza, and a pot of traditional Swiss fondue. Over dinner, we were
fortunate to see alpenglow, something we had never heard of before. A family
eating at the table behind us pointed it out to us to make note of it.
Basically, when the sun is setting, it can sometimes cast a bright pink glow
onto snow-covered peaks. It’s beautiful to see.

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Alpenglow on the Jungfrau range

After dinner we went to a nearby bar and played a game of
pool before heading back to our hotel for bed.

The next day we woke up for a leisurely morning. We enjoyed
breakfast in our hotel, where we discovered Ovomaltine Crunchy Cream, which is
way more delicious than it sounds. It’s basically a malty chocolate spread that
has been fortified with vitamins. We brought a big tub home and it’s already
gone – thankfully we have two more on the way thanks to Amazon.

After breakfast we took a cable car up to Allmendhubel and
set off for a 3 hour hike back down to Murren. The hike took us through valleys
and farms, all with striking views of the mountains.

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More cowbell please

That night we made our own salad dinner with food we got at
the local grocery store and got to bed early.

The next morning, we were up early to go paragliding. Both
of us have sky dived before (together!) but neither of us had ever paraglided.
With an expert strapped to each of our backs, and a parachute opened and
attached to both of us, we ran down the hillside in pairs just a few steps
before the wind picked us up by the parachute, and we were off! It was so
relaxing and fun – a lot like sky diving minus the adrenaline rush. For about
20 minutes, we glided over the Lauterbrunnen valley below, passing waterfalls
and the via ferrata.

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Tim paragliding over a waterfall

It was a fantastic way to end our stay in the mountains, and
of all the places we visited in Switzerland, Murren is the place I most want
come back to, and this time for a longer stay.

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Time and I with Murren behind us

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