Putting the Bear into Bern…

Ok, I’ve been saving one of my favourite Swiss cities…  but I must finally share it.  In fact, it is not secret in the least – it is the very capital of Switzerland!  Yes, I am talking about the beautiful city of Bern.  Anyone who has visited me in Switzerland has been taken to this city, because it is a city I never tire of visiting – it is strikingly beautiful, culturally and historically interesting, and with great food and shopping – what more could you want?  At the same time it is a small city, and the historic part of the city is easy to visit in a day.  And, of course, there are THE BEARS.  That’s right, the namesakes of the city are still kept right in the city.

The story goes that the Duke who settled the city of Bern wanted to name the city after the first animal he found in the forest that he cut down to create the city, which of course was a bear.

Bern also has a link to Einstein, and you can visit Einstein Haus, where Einstein worked and filed his first patent.

Here are some of my own photos of the city and its bears:

Bern, and the Aare River

Another shot of the city, crouched in the right-hand side of the picture.

One of my favourite spots in Bern – the market chessboard. This spot is always busy, and there is always an intense match going on, with many on-lookers.

Window shopping in Bern – possibly the largest Swiss army knife in existence? Note the price tag (oh yes, you can buy this): a whopping 1200 francs! 🙂 Is it possible this knife has a fold-out maid that will clean my apartment for me?

Bear…with onlookers! Yes, there are often many people here to see the bears. They are now in their new “bear park” – I will leave the discussion of whether or not it is humane to keep them there out of this blog, but the question does remain…

Frolicking in the water…

I’m sure my lovely blogger host will soon trump this post with actual pictures of bears in the wild, but this is the best you’ll get in her absence… 🙂  But perhaps it will satisfy the wildlife cravings out there.
Happy Friday,

northkate

 

 

 

 

 

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Grindelwald – not just a character in Harry Potter

Hello again!
It has been a long break, but moving to Geneva has occupied my time in a big way, recently.  In any case, I thought I’d highlight a place in Switzerland I got the chance to visit a second time this summer, causing me to fall head-over-heels for it one more time:  Grindelwald.

Grindelwald

In the above picture you can see that Grindelwald is a mountain village, situated in a valley in the Alps.  The hiking in this area is fabulous, and there are also numerous cable cars and little red mountain trains that you can take as well – the typical Swiss experience!  The town itself is very pretty – slightly on the touristy side, but I find it still retains its charm.  The mountains dominate the landscape, and these are not just any mountains.  The three largest are none other than the Eiger (one side of which is the North Face), the Monch, and the Jungfrau.  If you feel like forking out the dough, you can take a train from Grindelwald to the “JungfrauJoch”, which is the highest train station in Europe – situated on a high pass between the Jungfrau and Monch.

This was the view from our hotel window – I couldn’t believe my eyes!

Here are a couple shots from hikes and train rides around the area.

The path…

Glacier

Alpen flowers – so pretty!

Thistle close-up

The Three Sisters (in the background): Eiger (North Face), Monch, Jungfrau

If you come in the wintertime, you are in skiing heaven – and also not far from Wengen, which hosts the World Cup slalom ski race if I’m not mistaken.

If you take a short (breathtakingly gorgeous) train ride from Grindelwald, you pass through Wengen and end up in Lauterbrunnen.  This is a village that seems unreal – it has a huge waterfall (Staubbach falls) right above it.

Lauterbrunnen

For those in Canada, I hope you enjoyed your August long weekend.  Have a great week,

northkate

Craving Krakow

Sometimes I wish I were back in Krakow, Poland. I had such an incredible visit there last year. As it is less visited than other European cities, I thought it was worth mentioning here, because personally I found Krakow interesting and enchanting.

Early morning light in Krakow

Not long ago Krakow was under a Communist regime (it ended in 1989), and even longer ago it was in the shadow of the Holocaust (two main concentration camps were located very nearby), and yet the city and its people shine through.  If you are interested in history you will find much to explore here.

There is a beautiful main square with a large market in the centre:

Sidestreet in Krakow, looking onto the main square.

Main Square at night

Statue honouring Copernicus, who studied at the university in Krakow.

The Jewish Quarter – signs showing how the shops used to look.

We visited the Wieliczka salt mine – it was a short bus ride from Krakow, and was entirely worth the ride.  It was built, can you believe it, in the thirteenth century.  And functioned as a mine until as recently as 2007.  As you will see by my photos, it has some of the typical features of a mine (going down deep – 327 metres!, small walkways, mine shafts) but it is much more incredible:  not only does it have 300 km of pathways but it also features a bar and restaurant, a cavernous chapel (which still has weekly services and which has weddings), and statues of Copernicus and others, including the dwarves which were said to live in the mine.  Here are some of my shots:

Going down, down, down… (there’s a crazy old elevator that takes you back up!)

Salt mine

Statue of Copernicus – he visited the mine.

The amazing chapel deep underground

Altar in the chapel. Note that everything you see is made of SALT. Hence why it glows when it lights up, as you see here. Even the chandeliers are made of salt!

Finally, I really enjoyed seeing (and using) the old communist-era streetcars in Krakow – they have so much character!
Enjoy the rest of your Tuesday,

northkate

Streetcar no. 1

Streetcar no. 2 – my fav.


 

 

Biking in Burgundy

Your faithful guest blogger is back from Copenhagen – notes and photos on that later!

I’d like to share one of my favourite trips outside of Switzerland – biking in Burgundy, France (I thought I’d clarify in case you were thinking the post was about cycling in a maroon shirt…).

In essence, going on this trip feels like you are in a French film – you wind your way through French vineyards, glide through old French wine-making villages, take in the breathtaking scenery, even stopping to sample a grape now and then.
I was with a group, and we stayed in Beaune, France,  and for the cycling aspect we used Burgundy Evasion Bike Tours, which I highly recommend.  Florian, who runs the tiny company, is an excellent guide.  He speaks both French and English.
Here are some photos from the bike rides:

As for Beaune, to me it feels like the quintessential French village – cobblestone streets, lots of wineries for tasting, a wonderful Saturday market (you might recall my love of markets!), little winding streets, and lots of “terrasses” (patios) on which you might enjoy a glass of local burgundy wine.

Off to a wine-tasting!Guess which bottle is the normal wine bottle size???  Yup, the one on the left.  The one on the right would require a serious celebration!

The streets of Beaune.Market produce.  What can I say, the French know how to display their veggies.

Of course my blog posting wouldn’t be complete without a mention (at least one…) of food – one of my favourite French treats is called a “macaron” (macaroon).  This one café (sorry, the name escapes me) offers a large selection of flavours, and you can have it elegantly with tea, as I did below.  (Perhaps mine was less elegant because I drooled so much in anticipation!)

In Beaune there is a very old hospice (no longer being used as one) which you can tour – I also would recommend this!
If you are looking for a trip to France, I would suggest you give Beaune a try…because how can you not follow the sign below??

Happy Sunday,
northkate

Five reasons you should not miss the Désalpe celebration in Switzerland

What IS the Désalpe, you ask?  Well, one thing Switzerland is famous for is its cows, with their clanging bells.  If you have done a mountain hike in Switzerland, you have probably heard the tinkling of the bells (it really is a pleasant sound!), because the cows graze at high altitudes in the summer.  However, before it gets cold, the cows are brought down to be given a warm place for the winter.  Of course, why not celebrate this annual event?  Hence the “Désalpe” – kind of like “un-Alp”, meaning to bring the cows down from the alps.  Neat, eh?

Now, back to my five reasons.

Reason Number One:  You get to see a cow parade.  (bring earplugs for the clanging bells – not so enchanting up close!)
(Yes, many of the cows have fancy floral headresses!)

Reason Number Two:  You can try traditional Swiss raclette.  (Heated raclette cheese scraped onto boiled potatoes – delish!)
Reason Number Three:  You get to hear an alpen horn quartet.  The mellow sound they make is beautiful – I think it’s quite a difficult instrument to play!
Reason Number Four:  You get to see some traditional Swiss garb.

Reason Number Five:  Most importantly, you get to experience an ancient Swiss tradition.
I wish you all a good week – I’m off to Copenhagen!

northkate

The “Swiss Riviera”

Yes, Switzerland has mountains.  And cows.  And chocolate.  But it also has something else, that is lesser-known:  a little bit of Italy!  Switzerland is composed of 26 cantons (like provinces or states), most of which are German-speaking (swiss german, that is), some of which are French-speaking, but only ONE of which is solely Italian-speaking.  That is the canton of Ticino (or Tessin, in French).  I have had the fortune of visiting this beautiful canton twice, and I would jump at the chance to go again.  It is a wonderful combination of Italy and Switzerland – mountains, delicious food, warm weather, palm trees (!), and just all-round gorgeous.  As my descriptions clearly fall short, I will let the photos speak for themselves:

A sidewalk terrace in Locarno, Switzerland.

Polenta, being cooked outside in a big copper pot.  I had mine with Gorgonzola cheese – mmm!
 Flora from one of the Islands of Brissago near Ascona, Switzerland.  Take the local ferry to get there!  Here is a particularly interesting flower I saw:
The view of Lago Maggiore and the Alps (from Locarno) – does it get any better?
 Waiting for the ferry (to go to Ascona)…
I ate that delicious polenta with this superb view – no wonder it was so good!
 A little local culture – there was a Rolls Royce club meeting while we were there.
Another shot of lovely Ascona, Switzerland.
 You need to take a short funicular ride above Locarno to see this monastery – well worth it!
On the way to the Val Verzasca for a hike, we stopped at this huge dam, and yes, it was used in the James Bond film Golden-Eye! (Apparently – haven’t seen it…)  If you are a thrill-seeker, you can bungee jump off the dam…
This is a photo from our hike down the valley of Verzasca – this was a fantastic hike.  We took a bus up the valley and then hiked back down.
The aqua colour of the River Verzasca – it’s as chilly as it looks!

As you can see there is a lot to be seen in Ticino, Switzerland.  Go explore!

You must (fon)due this hike!

This is a hike I have had the privilege of doing twice, and it is not far from Neuchâtel, Switzerland, where I live.  In this hike, you essentially hike up and down what is called the “Creux du Van”.  The Creux du Van is a huge rock formation (apparently called a rock “cirque”:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creux_du_Van) that you spend a tough 30-45 minutes hiking straight up, followed by a leisurely hike down (1-2 hours).  Here is a link describing the hike:  http://activityworkshop.net/hiking/switzerland/creuxduvan.html . It is describing a slightly longer hike (don’t be thrown off – it doesn’t take 7 hours as it is listed!!!)

Despite the difficult hike up (known for its 13 switchbacks – believe me, you count them as you go) the view you are rewarded with (if there’s no fog) is stunning!  Not only that, but you are also greeted by the sound of swiss cow bells, because there are a few farms up top.  After the hike you can stop at Ferme Robert for a classic Swiss dish – cheese fondue!  Not a bad way to finish it all off, I can assure you.  Eat your fondue one of the typical ways, with a nice cup of hot tea.  Ferme Robert even has a little natural history museum upstairs, if you’re not already sold by their cheesy specialty!  (http://www.ferme-robert.ch/)
Here are a few photos I took on my first hike (the weather was so foggy the second time, I didn’t bother taking any):
Happy Monday!

northkate