World Tourism Day: Discover a Switzerland Beyond Yash Raj & SRK
Yash Raj may have single-handedly popularised Switzerland, but the capital Bern is a must-see off the beaten track.
Yash Chopra.. DDLJ… and yes, Switzerland. Even the Swiss Tourism board acknowledges that Yash Chopra has single-handedly done more to promote Switzerland than they have managed with years of promotions in the Indian market.
His Swiss obsession began with the forgettable Faasle in the 1980s and never went away. It’s tough to imagine an Indian tour group not making customary stops at Interlaken and Jungfrau; it’s almost a given.
But clearly, a growing number of Indian travellers (me included) steer clear of the beaten track – especially on a repeat visit (Switzerland can be quite addictive).
I had opted to use my last day in Switzerland to discover a new city instead of aimlessly shopping in Zurich. Switzerland’s efficient rail network – one of the world’s most dense – allows you unlimited rides (aside from free access to a long list of museums) with a Swiss pass (www.swiss-pass.ch). A three-day pass starts at about Rs 14,000.
My local host wasn’t pleased – the Swiss hate deviations from a plan. A couple of hours later and after a bit of ‘eeeny, meeny, miny, moe’ I landed up at Bern, Switzerland’s capital.
Of ‘Walking Everywhere’ in Bern
London, Paris, Rome… somehow Bern almost never figures in Europe’s lists of famous capitals. But this was Switzerland, I was banking on the inimitable Swiss charm that permeates every corner of this country. My enquiries about local transportation at the tourism office received a cryptic response – ‘Walk everywhere’.
Comforting – it’s impossible to tick off London or Paris’s must do sights without a complex public transportation grid.
Within a few minutes I was lost within Bern’s Lauben – a long grid of covered arcades with a mish-mash of quaint boutiques, fountains, towering statues of Swiss Folk figures and even some historic cellars (some of which house swish restaurants).
Eventually I succumbed to a signboard with ‘traditional Swiss cuisine’ on Barenplatz. In no time I’d polished off the most delish Swiss Roesti I’ve ever eaten in Switzerland.
The Clock Tower That Inspired Albert Einstein
The small restaurant also offered a partial view of one of Bern’s most famous landmarks – the Zytglogge (the clock tower). It was first the Western gate of the city before an astronomical clock was added to the structure in 1530. Almost 500 years later, visitors queue up to watch revolving figures turn just four minutes before the hour when the chimes commence.
The waiter at the restaurant gave me a tip – Albert Einstein sought inspiration from this clock for his Theory of Relativity. I soon learn that Einstein is a local legend – he spent two years in Bern as a patent clerk and his apartment on Kramgasse has been converted into a tiny museum.
The Zytglogge might be the most visited spot in Bern but it’s Bern’s Munster (Cathedral) that towers over the city with its 100-metre high spire. A couple of locals at the Cathedral joke about how construction activity at the Cathedral hasn’t quite stopped since 1421. The spire was completed in 1893 and there’s yet another massive restoration underway.
A steep 344-step climb keeps my Fitbit busy and finally offers sweeping views; I could spot snow-capped mountains of the Bernese Oberland some distance away.
But the best views of the day were yet to come.
Switzerland is History and Photo Ops
That happened later in the afternoon when I took the short uphill trek up to Rose Gardens, a large public park with over 200 varieties of roses. I didn’t bother smelling the roses, using almost all my time at the park to take in the stunning view. There are few vantage points in Europe that compare to this – views of Bern and the Aare Loop where the river hugs the old town with its charming red roofs.
Bern’s historical old town hasn’t changed much since it was rebuilt in 1405 after a major fire swept though the city. It’s what earned the entire town UNESCO World Heritage Status in 1983.
I had made quite a few stops along my 8-hour trek around Bern including a customary halt at the Parliament square with 26 fountains (to represent the 26 cantons that make up Switzerland).
But more than the photo ops it was walking through the utterly charming cobbled streets that was the highlight of my detour to Bern. I would have stayed long after sunset if I didn’t receive a text from my local Swiss host with minute-by-minute instructions to make it to Zurich on time for my flight.
You can’t escape Swiss precision even as you ‘unwind’!
Getting there and around: Bern is an hour from Zurich by train. Zurich is connected to all major International airports (including Delhi and Mumbai).
Accommodation: The Bellevue palace offers great views of Alpine peaks and the city’s historic landmarks from its unique location in the heart of the city. (www.bellevue-palace.ch)
(Ashwin Rajagopalan enjoys communicating across boundaries in his three distinct roles as a widely published lifestyle writer, one of India’s only cross cultural trainers and a consultant for a global brand services firm. Ashwin writes extensively on travel, food, technology and trends)
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