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The Swiss Family Johnson – December 23rd Bern & Zurich

Wednesday December 23rd was our last big travel day before Christmas, so we made sure to pack in two cities with big Christmas markets to get into the holiday spirit: Bern and Zurich. We were nicer to our guests than the previous day by letting everyone sleep in later, and it wasn’t until around 9 a.m. that we boarded our first train of the day to Bern.


This was the first clear train ride along lake Geneva that the Johnsons experienced, and they were in awe of the looming alps on the French side. Our train also wound over rolling hills and past castles and farmland. Keith was sure to make note of all the breeds of cattle we saw (surprisingly not much for Brown Swiss!) until we pulled into the Bern station.

Despite being the capital of Switzerland, Bern doesn’t feel like that big of a city.  The area we came to see, the old town, is compacted into a few block area located in a bend of the Aare river.  Getting to the old city is just a short walk from the main train station, but along our way we stopped at a park called Kleine Schanze, which is located next to the Swiss Federal Parliament building, and gives some awesome views of the river flowing at the bottom of a cliff, as well as the Alps just visible off on the horizon. Just a few blocks down, on our way to the old city gates, we also found the Swedish embassy and made sure to snap a few pictures to send to Bjorn.


We entered the old city along a street called Kramgasse, at a site with a large clock tower called the Zytglogge, which marked the city’s western gate in 1250.  The street is very wide with ornate fountains interspersed in the middle and fancy shops and restaurants  located along covered sidewalks on both sides.  Interestingly, there are also shops located below street level with entrances that look like cellar doors.  Even with the very unique covered sidewalks, the city is very German architecturally and has a much different feel than Lausanne.

The tallest and easiest to fine landmark in the city is the cathedral.  It is situated with a park adjacent to it, and a large square in front of it, and in this square was one of the city’s Christmas markets.  After ambling through the park overlooking the Aare adjacent to the cathedral, we walked through it, and then through the Christmas market.  For lunch we found a food stand with sausages, served on thick, stiff bread, and of course, some more gluhwein.  After lunch we hurried to the train station just in time to hop on a train bound for Zurich.


Zurich is the most populous city in Switzerland, and when we came out of the train station it lived up to its title; the sidewalks were overflowing with people.  We walked from the train station along Bahnhof Strasse, (the most expensive shopping street in the world), eyeing watches, suits and bags that cost more than some people make in a year. Our first stop was Zurich’s singing Christmas tree, which is a series of stands, decorated with garland, where a choir sings carols during the evenings and weekends.  Janell had seen a show about Switzerland that talked about it, and wanted to see it, but unfortunately no one was performing at the time. Luckily though, Keith stepped up to show us how it would look.

We then walked through a maze of narrow, hilly, cobble stoned streets and past some famous old churches including, St. Peter’s church, The Fraumünster, and the Grossmünster, on our way to Lake Zurich.  We were able to duck inside of the Grossmünster where there was an orchestra practicing for Christmas service. Keith also practiced some percussion by bumping into a podium, which sent the welcome sign clattering and reverberating off the stone floor and walls. It was quite loud, and to us at least, it was quite funny.


As we walked along the Limmat river, which flows out of Lake Zurich, Keith and Kyle got a chance to get to know the swans and ducks better, and once we reached the lake, they were able to watch, in awe, the four year old experts luring the birds in with bits of bread. After spending a few minutes soaking in the fading sun over the distant Alps, we made our way over to another large Christmas market across the street. We all found a few snacks – Kyle sampled some Swiss beer, Sandy got a pancake covered with rum soaked fruit, and Melissa and I bought some raclette to share. For those who don’t know, raclette consists of potatoes smothered with melted, fragrant cheese… a little too pungent for Janell or Keith to enjoy. After all that food, we felt we need to grab one of the dozens of street cars that weave throughout Zurich to get back to the train station to head home.

It was a day full of train riding (about 5 hours), and that gave Kyle and Melissa a good chance to catch up and discuss U.S. politics.  And after hearing them intently discussing, Sandy told Janell that she now knows why Janell drinks!  When we finally made it back home we had leftovers for dinner, then went to bed happy knowing that the next day wouldn’t have any busy travel, and everyone could sleep in as long as they liked.

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