Originally Written: January 3, 2019
For my mother in-law’s birthday, she took all her children and their accompanying families to the capital of Switzerland. Set a short distance away from the location of my Swiss Chocolate Train Trip, Bern felt like the overlooked gem of the country. Admittedly, I had no idea what to expect in the city. Only familiar with the Switzerland of movies and advertisements, I waited with bated breath to see if Bern lived up to my expectations.
Fortunately, I was very pleased with the city’s offerings. Impressed, even. The streets were clean and uncrowded, public transportation was electric rail cars that were reliable and easy to learn, and there proved to be plenty of offerings to keep two young kids entertained.
We stayed at the Hotel Novotel, located across the street from the Bern Expo Center. The hotel had a rail stop across the street and a mall with a food court within walking distance, as well as offering a breakfast buffet for an additional charge.
The rooms were small, but that was to be expected in Europe; what really threw everyone off was the odd configuration of the bathrooms. Near the front door was a private toilet, but the sink and baths were around the corner, practically on top of the main bed. Having to walk around the corner and into the main living space to wash our hands was an annoyance. It certainly was one of the stranger room layouts we have experienced in our travels.
However, the hotel did provide underground parking for our vehicles as well as free transportation passes throughout our stay, which were two great perks to have for a large group. Our room also had one of the WiFi modems, so Alex and I were always gifted high speed internet connection. You can’t really put a price on that little gem.
My group ate at two notable restaurants during our visit to Bern. For my mother in-law’s birthday dinner, we dined at the Altes Tramdepot, a laid back and fun brewery that sits adjacent to the famous bear park in the city. In the summer, you can look out the window and see the bears hanging out by the river, but they were in hibernation while we were there.
We found enjoyment in the form of a 3L beer tower:
As well as some popular food dishes like Spatzle and Rosti.
Nobody walked away hungry from that dinner, and Evie made the table next to us turn and laugh when she held up her glass of water and shouted, “Cheers!” as she clinked cups with every person. My fancy daughter…
The second restaurant of note was the Rosengarten, recommended to us because of its fondue selection. My mother in law really wanted to eat fondue while in Switzerland – and I mean, if you’re going to take part in that particular eating experience, Switzerland is kind of the place to do it – so we spent our last evening together over a few pots of melty, stringy, Swiss cheese. The nine of us indulged in cheese covered bread, cheese covered potatoes, and even cheese covered pickles.
The place was a fifteen minute walk from our hotel, and we were seated in a room that provided stunning views of the city.
If a beautiful nighttime panorama of the city is what you’re hoping to get out of Bern, then the Rosengarten is a must.
When visiting a city, I’m always apprehensive. Will the kids have enough to do? Will they be bored? Fortunately for Alex and me, Bern had a couple guaranteed winners. On the first day of our trip, everyone walked to the museum center and decided to pay entry fees to access the city’s Natural History Museum and their Einstein Museum.
For five Franks extra, Alex bought Landon an audio guide, and that was enough to keep him occupied for the morning.
The Natural History exhibits were pretty standard fare, but the Einstein museum was worth every penny. It was large, well laid out, and housed a bounty of information and memorabilia.
A few of the highlights were Einstein’s Nobel Prize from 1922:
His Swiss passport:
And a sample of his childhood toys that supposedly he would play with for hours on end when he five. (Hmmm….sounded an awful lot like another young boy I know.)
The other easy choice is the local zoo. My kids can spend all day staring at exotic creatures and studying their mannerisms. Landon likes birds, especially flamingos. But Evie wants to see them all. Monkeys, cats, antelope, and iguanas. She deemed them all “iguanadons” on this trip and dragged everyone to see the “dinosaur.”
The Bern zoo was limited and on the smaller side, but it was a nice way to spend the morning with each other. Plus, there was a playground the kids were able to utilize, and that helped get excess wiggles out of the their systems.
In the center of the city was the famous Clock Tower, which demanded attention the second you entered the street. Beautiful from both sides, it had gold hands and an astrological clock underneath the larger one.
In front of the Clock Tower and all around the city were elaborate fountains with interesting sculptures. As our trip wore on, I found myself trying to spot as many as I could and study their themes. Had the kids been a little older, I think we could have made a scavenger hunt of sorts with the fountains, walking around the city looking for as many as possible.
All of the previous points of interest were great, but I think the highlight for everyone was experiencing the GurtenBahn funicular railway. In order to access the 858m mountain, we rode a tram up to the top (which was free thanks to our hotel passes).
And then got to enjoy an expansive park that had hiking trails, footpaths, playgrounds, and children’s activities. It was a beautiful, unhurried space. I could have spent the entire trip walking around and relaxing on the top of that mountain.
The kids had a blast riding the mini train and figuring out the ball mechanism tracks.
Alex, myself, my sister in-law, and her husband experienced the observation tower on the mountain.
It was over one hundred steps to the top of the winding staircase, but the end result was breathtaking.
Epic is the word one of my party members used, and I think it’s apt.
I never knew I needed to see the Swiss Alps covered in snow for myself until I stared at the mountains and realized what a sight they were.
Natural beauty in its most stunning and breathtaking form.
Of all the things my family has gotten to see, it’s the earthly sights that stick with me the most. The tranquil beaches of the Caribbean, Torc Waterfall in Ireland, now the Swiss Alps…
I can only hope that I get to continue to fill my cup with the Earth’s bounty for years to come. Not only that, but I hope those experiences continue with my loved ones. While the mountains and the cobbled streets were an adventure in themselves, what will stick with me longer are the people who shared in those days. Let me never forget Evie’s “is it tasty” crack, the hunt for the missing hat (and its miraculous return), the gnocchi eaten with chopsticks, the dog spotting, the selfie taking man in the model set. All of them were part of the film of our lives, with Bern and its unexpected charm the setting.