The Food, Fun, and Foibles of a First-Time Europe Traveler


Bern: Bears, Potatoes, and Einstein


The original plan was to go from Lyon to Interlaken, but Hanna got in contact with her cousin Pauline that lives in Switzerland, and she said it would be easier to meet in Bern. So we went to the train station in Lyon around 9:30 a.m. and said, “We have a Eurail pass and we want to go to Bern.” She looked at us like she had just eaten some tripe sausage and said, “Today!?” The effing strike.

She finally got us our route, Lyon to Geneva, Geneva to Bern, but we couldn’t leave until 17:04. So we spent yet another day in a French train station, granted this one was a bit nicer than Paris…but still. Our connections worked out and we ended up in Bern around 20:00.

We walked out of the train station looking for a map so we could locate our hotel, and this is what we found. Um…

Banhofplatz or Bubenbergplatz?

It didn’t help matters that one address for the hotel was on Banhofplatz and another for the same hotel was on Bubenbergplatz. I had fun saying those names for the next couple of days. Finally we gave up and said, “ok there’s a hotel across the street, let’s just ask them.” So we walk in and Hanna goes, “yeah this is our hotel.” Classic.

We checked in and went off in search of food. We ended up at Le Mazot, a traditional Swiss restaurant. I had never had Swiss food before, but all you need to know is that they love cheese and potatoes. We ordered raclette, basically just melted cheese on a plate…but it was delicious. We also ordered a rosti, basically a potato pancake covered in cheese and cream (the one we ordered also had sausage and leeks). On top of that we got fondue (of course), which is just a big pot of cheese with herbs and wine (waaaay too much, at this place at least). What do they give you to dip in the fondue? Potatoes, of course. And we thought Ireland was in trouble during the potato famine.

The meal was good, but we’ll never make the mistake of ordering all those dishes in the same meal again. It’s three days later, and I’m still feeling the brunt of that one…if you know what I mean.

The next day we walked around Bern, being sure to stop at the bear pit. If you know one thing about Switzerland, Bern in particular, it’s that they absolutely LOVE bears! There are pictures of bears, statues of bears, bears on the flag, chocolate bears, and, as we would see shortly, real-life actual bears roaming the hillside.

Pauline and her husband Olivier informed us of the legend of the bears. Apparently the ruler of the founding people of Switzerland was an avid hunter. He went out hunting one day and announced, “Whatever animal I shoot first will be the symbol of our town!” or something to that effect. Sure enough, he shot himself a nice brown bear. Lucky it wasn’t quail season.

Not exactly the Ritz.

So we went to the “bear pit” which, up until a few years ago, was an actual pit. I don’t know what took PETA so long (they must have had some difficulty traversing the alps), but eventually they convinced Bern that it was harmful to these giant wild animals to keep them in a 10 x 10 underground stone pit. Go figure.

So they moved the bears outside onto the hillside next to the old pits, and it is now called the “bear park.” It’s got to be a lot easier for the bears to tell other bears where they live now. “Bear Pit” sounds like the projects, but “Bear Park” could be an upscale new gated community. I’m pretty sure I went bear-crazy in Bern.

Live Bears on the Hillside.

Anyway, it was awesome to see these things running around in plain sight. They had fences and a river to keep the bears separated from the people. The sign outside reminded us that the river was “an important natural danger” (lost in translation?) and not to go swimming in it. I wonder how many people jumped in before they were forced to put up that sign?

After that we went to the top of yet another Cathedral. After the nauseating spiral staircase to the top, we saw a phenomenal view of the alps. These pictures became slightly less impressive when, two days later, we were actually standing on top of one of the alps…now you’re excited, aren’t you? Out front of the Cathedral, there was a painting/sculpture depicting heaven and hell. On the heaven side there are the typical angels and clouds and on the hell side there are, let’s just say, less desirable fates occurring.


We got some food and headed back to take a nap. We woke up and it was dinner time so, sick of potatoes and cheese, we found an Italian place. I got a nice mixed tapas plate (yes, tapas at an Italian restaurant…they also had guacamole) and Hanna got a simple spaghetti. We were both in the mood for something light after all that Swiss food (although it was hard to pass up the “spaghetti for starving travelers” (more translation problems) which I guess gave you a larger portion of spaghetti for 6 francs).

We went home and passed out, ready to head to Biel (not sure if the founders are Jessica’s ancestors) to meet up with Hanna’s cousin Pauline.