European Adventures:

Switzerland and Northern Italy, 2018-2019

In Bern, we discovered not much more was open. The Einstein house (which I had hoped to see) was closed, unfortunately, for the week between Christmas and New Year, so we walked around and checked out a bunch of fountains and a medieval astronomical clock, and looked at bakeries and chocolatiers and violin makers.

We grabbed sausage and bread and some steak tartare in a cafe for a light lunch, then went to the bear pit (“Bern” means “bears,” and supposedly in 1100-something when the town was founded a bear was the first animal shot and killed by the duke in this area).

The bears were hibernating but they had some cute bear exhibits and a nice elevator down the hill to the river, and it was a beautiful sunny day with nice views of the city. We took a bus back toward the hotel, watched the clock again, and bought some Mandelbrot and German-style gingerbread (super thick and rock hard, but compelling) as well as marzipan-filled dates and chocolate-dipped candied orange wedges (Marcus really loved both of them).

At the hotel—the Kreuz Bern Modern—we chilled for an hour and a half or so: Helen napped, Robert and Marcus played cards, and Samantha drew and cuddled with me. The hotel “family” room had bunk beds for the kids and then a bed for Robert and me and Helen, so of course the bunks were a hit. Then we went out for a fancy dinner—most sit-down Swiss dinners seem to be entrees in the $35 range, but this place, in a baroque-style hall that used to be the town granary (the restaurant was called “corn house cellar,” or kornhauskeller) with gorgeous atmosphere, was in the same price range but just a lot nicer. We had a corner table where Helen could go down and play on the floor, which was good because dinner took a bit over 2.5 hours—for reference, that is close to 2 hours longer than most of our restaurant meals (not quite, but almost…). Anyway, entrees here were again $35 or so, but the atmosphere was great and for the two big kids they offered a $15 kids menu, where they could pick whatever they wanted on the adult menu and get it, with no limit or anything. So Marcus had another raw beef dish (carpaccio this time) and then roast lamb riblets and a consumee and Samantha also had the consumee and a Swiss meat-and-noodle dish with applesauce. The carpaccio alone would have been $18, and his portion was presumably slightly smaller than the adult appetizer one, but was not tiny! Plus he had three lovely rare lamb medallions, too. There weren’t any other kids in the (huge—like 300 people or so) place, but there were about three other babies/ toddlers who just ate off plates. It was a great dinner. I had a Swiss-style calves liver in a sweet-and-sour sauce (kind of reminiscent of balsamic) with rosti. Robert had a big cured meat and pickle and potato and sausage platter. We walked the couple blocks back to the hotel and got everyone in bed by 9:30, our earliest night so far.

The next morning, we ate the hotel breakfast, then checked out and put our bags in the lobby. We walked over to the cathedral, spotting cargo bikes along the way (one carrying another bike, two clones of my bike—one equipped for kids and one for transporting deliveries from a cheese shop!!, and one bike-sharing cargo bike—super cool idea!).

We also stopped at a grocery store for Swiss chocolate and Swiss gloves for Robert (who forgot his in Boston) and also a three kings’ cake, and wandered along the river overlook path. At the cathedral we climbed to the top, and enjoyed the view.

We discovered that if you’re over 70 and climb the cathedral tower, they take your picture and put it and your name in a special book. Robert and I had a good chuckle thinking about which of our parents might do it, and when we saw a Japanese woman who looked around 70, climbing with what was clearly her daughter, I showed the daughter the sign about “over 70s” and she translated for her mother and the mother threw back her head and laughed peals of laughter—it turned out that she’s 67, turning 68 in January, so just missed it by a couple years. Robert said I offended her by implying she was two years older than she is, but she didn’t seem offended, as far as I could tell.

We took a train to Milan (3 hours) and then changed for a different train to Bologna (1 hour). Amit and Elena, who are now totally European, were a bit aghast at the “long” train journey when they heard us mention it, and asked why we didn’t just fly instead. Uh, I don’t know, because Helen is free on trains and train stations are in the center of towns, vs. getting to and from airports, and trains have interesting views of the countryside and let you move around a bunch more so my older two are not confined next to each other, and fast and clean and reliable trains are such a novelty to us in the U.S.? Yeah, that’s probably why….

At the train station we bought a kebob bowl (in a box, over fries) and several different bretzels. We also tried the classic Swiss soda Rivella, which was really pretty awful. Marcus claimed to have liked it, but I’m not convinced. We consumed our lunch and some Kinder Eggs on the train. Helen and Samantha are completely entranced with them, still, but Marcus is over them—he neither likes the chocolate nor the toy at this point, hilariously, but still insists on having one “to be fair” (though he then gives it away to Helen).

more. . . .


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Created: 1/9/19. Last Modified: 2/25/19.