Switzerland’s Winter Wonderland

It’s finally December and with the last month of the year, winter holds the country in an even stronger grasp than normal. I don’t care for snow and/or the alps, but for most people, it is the best time to leave behind the towns and villages in the lowland for some relaxation and fun among the mountains. So in today’s post, we’ll have a brief look at the three regions most commonly associated with skiing, snowboarding and being a winter wonderland.

Bernese Oberland

An hour away of the capital, Bern, lies the spectacular and beautiful Bernese Oberland. At the foot of the Bernese Alps lie the two sister lakes, the Lake Thun and the Lake Brienz, connecting by the river Aar. The Oberland offers a variety of beautiful alpine resorts. Grindelwald is famous for its breathtaking view of the menacing north wall of the Eiger, a mountain that has claimed its fair share of mountaineers. Wengen, home of the yearly Lauberhorn ski race, offers the opportunity to glide in the path of the professionals, while even James Bond enjoyed his stay in the nearby Mürren.

Valais

South of the Bernese Oberland lies the beautiful, bilingual canton of Valais. Zermatt lies at the foot of Switzerland’s most iconic mountain, the Matterhorn. Leukerbad is famous for his thermal baths, which make even the coldest of winters more bearable. Thanks to the NEAT initiative, the canton is much more accessible than before and can be reached by travelling through the Bernese Oberland. The canton is also home to Crans-Montana, a resort popular due to its yearly golf tournament and Switzerland’s highest mountain, the Dufourspitze.

Grisons

Grisons is about one-and-a-half hours away from Zurich and offers a variety of idyllic mountain retreats. December is a great time to visit Davos before it is taken over by business magnates and politicians during the Global Economic Forum. The Spengler Cup right after Christmas offers entertainment and low-level hockey action. St. Moritz is famed among the rich and famous, but the towns around it are quieter and prettier. Have a lookout for Samedan, Pontresina or Sils Maria. The whole Engadin valley is beautiful and secluded, but well worth the trip.

But if you’re more interested in getting away from the snow and the cold, a trip to the Ticino might be more to your liking. That, however, is a story for another day.A

As always, have a great start to the week and please like, share and subscribe!

Sincerely yours,

Albert

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Cultural Events in Switzerland

A busy week is behind me with another one coming up, so today’s post will be short and sweet. Since I’ve not been able to travel around, I’d like to highlight some of the most interesting cultural events going on.

Zurich Kunsthaus: Edvard Munch

The Kunsthaus, the premier museum for art in Zurich, opened its exhibition on Edvard Munch, the famed Norwegian artist best known for his iconic painting “The Scream”. The exhibition runs through January 12, but with the weather in Switzerland turning grey and rainy, it might be the best time to check him out. With 150 piece by the expressionist, the Kunsthaus offers a great overview of his work. It is the first time the entire collection is shown to the public. Anyone interested in great art should check out the official website of the Kunsthaus and stop by the museum.

Theater im Pfauen Zurich: Alice in Wonderland

The play “Alice in Wonderland” (German: Alice im Wunderland) premieres this Friday at the Pfauen. Based on the novel Lewis Carroll, this play promises to be an intriguing rendition of the classic children’s book. After the premiere, the shows will be staged on various dates until January. The play is held in German. More information can be found on the website of the Schauspielhaus.

Historical Museum Bern: Terracotta Warriors

The Historical Museum in Bern has been showing the Terracotta warriors from the Chinese Qin dynasty since the middle of March. With November upon us, there are only 14 days left to see the exhibition with the life-sized figures from ancient China. The exhibition focuses on the foundation of the Chinese empire and offers a glimpse of times long past. With only a few days left to visit them, anyone with an interest in Ancient History should make their way to Berne. Information on Qin can be found here.

That’s it for this week. If you’d like to highlight any other events, please let me know!

See you on Wednesday.

Sincerely yours,
Albert

 

Three wonderful everyday Train Routes

A few weeks ago, I gave an introduction to Train Travel in Switzerland and announced that I would be talking about some of the most iconic train trips in the country. However, due to the start of the university semester and other commitments, my time to take on extended scenic journeys is somewhat limited. On the other hand, there have been a few beautiful routes I’ve taken while working in the financial sector. Of course, these are not famous trips like the Golden Express or Bernina Express, but everyday routes taking by students, tourists, businesspeople and retirees alike.

Bern – Geneva

The train ride from Zurich to Bern only takes an hour, but also leads to a large number of tunnels. Continuing from Bern on to Geneva however is probably my favorite high-speed route in Switzerland. Between Bern and Fribourg the landscape is full of forests and green hills, with smaller towns lining up nicely along the way. But the highlight of the journey awaits after Fribourg, when the train exits a tunnel and enters the Région lémanique. As the train weaves it’s way through the vineyards of Canton Vaud, you’re treated to a beautiful view of the Lac Léman. The train then continues all the way along the coast through the city of Lausanne to Geneva.

Biel – Yverdon

Another beautiful route along one of the many lakes in Switzerland lies between Biel and Yverdon. The train first follows the borders of Lake Biel before reaching Lake Neuchatel. It offers a comprehensive view of St. Peters Island, the peninsula where the famous philosoph Jean-Jacques Roussau spent the happiest days of his life. Along the shore there are a many tiny, idylic old-fashioned villages  and the charming city of Neuchatel to explore during the journey.

Bern – Interlaken (-Brig)

The last route on today’s list is the fifty minute ride between the capital and the famous city Interlaken. The route extends all the way to Brig, but the last part of the journey is spent mostly in the darkness of the Lötschberg tunnel, which considerably cut the time of reaching the Canton of Valais. On the way to Interlaken along the shore of Lake Thun you’ll see some of the best views the region of Bern can offer. You pass the towns of Spiez and Thun and end in Interlaken, one of the most famous tourist places in Switzerland. But the defining part of the trip is the view of the majestic Alps, which can be seen throughout the whole journey and make the trip a particularly beautiful ride.

These wonderful “normal” routes are a big reason of why I prefer train travel to car travel. I hope you get the chance to check them out!

Sincerely yours,
Albert

Who let the bears out? The bear park in Bern!

As summer is taking another break this week with temperatures hovering around 15 degrees, I’ll would like to introduce you to one of the most famous tourist attractions in the city of Bern: The bear park.

I wrote a bit about the city in my post about the Marzili, the best place to spend a hot summer day in the capital. But for tourists, one of best known places to visit is the former bear pit, today’s bear park.

The heraldic animal of Bern is the bear. The animal doesn’t only grace the flag of city and canton, but it also used in the logo of many big sports clubs like the current Swiss hockey champion SC Bern . Bears are revered in Bern and have been held in the city since 1513. From 1857 to 2009, the bears were held in the (in)famous bear pit. However, the cold, concrete pit didn’t provide the bears with the highest quality of life. Holding them in the Bärengraben (as it’s called in German) was not considered appropriate for the animals. So Bern decided to build them a beautiful new park spanning around 6’000 square meters for the bears to roam and climb around. The hilly park is now green and full of trees and pond for the bears to move around, a far cry from the narrow scope of the former bear pit.

Currently, four bears live in the bear park: Björk, Finn, Berna and Ursina. The latter two were born in the bear park and were the main attraction in the initial months after the inauguration of the park. Visitors of the park could watch them play around, discover their surroundings and take a swim in the pond accessible to them. Watching them grow up was a major draw for visitors as their playful nature delighted tourists and citizens alike. At the beginning of their life, they had to be kept separate from their father Finn, so the bears could not be seen together. Since August 2012 however the four inhabitants of the bear park have been brought together.
To get to the bear park, visitors can take a bus from the main station to the bear park and take a stroll around the whole compound. Another way to reach the park is by taking a scenic walk down the old town of Bern, past the famous and somewhat gruesome fountains as well as the medieval clock towers. The walk should take around 30 minutes at a leisurely pace.

At the park, the bears can be watched from all angles as you walk around the whole park. The remnants of the old bear pit have not been destroyed, so you can still imagine how life used to be for the bears before the new project was completed. Next to bear park you can find also a large souvenir shop for anyone eager to show their allegiance to bears and the city.

Another reason to venture down to the bear pit is the restaurant Tramdepot, which is known for their local cuisine and homebrewed beer. The beer is a specialty known around the region. On Friday and Saturday evenings, it is difficult to get a seat without a reservation. Right across from the bear pit lies another restaurant, the Brasserie Bärengraben. This restaurant however is rather upscale and expensive. However the cuisine is excellent and the place is famous for their dessert buffet which features many wonderful cakes and pies.

After watching the bears and having a quick drink or meal, many options to continue your journey in Bern exist. You can either venture down to the river Aar to see the oldest part of the city or walk up to the rose garden, which will give you a complete view of the Old town. Should you have walked down to the bear pit on the main road, you can another route back to the main station, this time walking past the medieval cathedral and its platform, where you can take in the view of the alps and the Gurten.

Bern was listed as one of the top ten destinations of Europe for 2013 by Lonely Planet, so I can only recommend you to visit the city and the bear park. For more information on the park, please check out their website!

Thank you very much for reading and please like, subscribe and share!

In other news, I have been added to the list of (expat) blogs at A humorous guide to Switzerland. Be sure to check out their blog for more excellent tips on life and travel in Switzerland!

Sincerely yours,
Albert

Three museums for (rainy) days

The weather in Switzerland is still terrible. It starting pouring down on Friday morning and continued to pour down throughout the weekend. On the bright side, it seemed as if today is the day summer starts to force its way into consciousness again. I’m really hoping the warm season will arrive soon. Due to the unfortunate weather and the fact that I have finals this week, I wasn’t able to seek out a spot in Switzerland and take pictures. So today, I’m keeping the post short and sweet while talking about three museums worth checking out if summer should be delayed further more.

Kunsthaus Zürich

The Kunsthaus is the premier art museum in the city and has welcomed some extraordinary exhibitions in the last years. They have included great artists as Monet (my favorite), Chagall and Gauguin. The museum also features large collections by Edward Munch and Alberto Giacometti. You can find an overview of its programme on their website. The future is also bright for the Kunsthaus, as the residents approved a credit for an annex to the museum. The new annex, which is scheduled to open in 2017, will allow the Kunsthaus to show more pieces from their extensive collection and the addition of the collection E.G Bührle will make it a leading spot for French Impressionism.

Located near the Old Town you can easily reach the museum by tram or foot.

Verkehrshaus Lucerne 

In the city of Lucerne in Central Switzerland you’ll find the Verkehrshaus, one of my favorite museums in Switzerland growing up. The English translation for Verkehrshaus is Museum of Transport. I haven’t visited the museum in a while, but the last time I visited their explanation of the construction of the Gotthard tunnel, which links the german-speaking part of Switzerland with the Ticino, left a lasting impression on me. With the new railroad tunnel to be finished in a few years, you should take your time to learn from its storied history and to marvel at this extraordinary feat of engineering. Other excellent pieces include their large collection of airplanes from times past and their planetarium, where you’ll be treated to a journey through space and time. As a visitor, you’re able to walk into these older planes or go on simulated ride taking you back to the time of the vehicles in question. You can reach the Verkehrshaus by bus or boat on the Lake Lucerne from the Lucerne main station.

Museum of Communication Bern

Another favorite from my formative years is the museum of communication located a few meters from my former high school. The great strength of this place are the interactive exhibitions highlighted by “As time goes byte”, a history of the computer and digital culture. The permanent exhibitions starts out with the first computers and flows through time ending with a glimpse into the hopefully not so distant future. Also worth a visit are the sections about the evolution of the post and telephone as well as the large stamp collection in the basement, which features most if not all stamps issued in Switzerland. As a former collector myself, seeing the stamps from the 19th century is a fascinating look into times long gone. Similar to the Verkehrshaus, most of his exhibitions are interactive, so children and adults alike have buttons to press, videos to watch and gadgets to try to out.

You can reach the museum of communication by taking a bus or a tram from the main station or on foot by taking a stroll past the federal palace and over the Kirchenfeld bridge.

Please note that most museums in Switzerland are closed on Mondays in Switzerland. I hope you can

That’s it for now, I’m back to studying. Feel free to share your tips for museums or exhibitions in Switzerland in the comment sections or by tweeting @AlbertGubler!

Sincerely yours,
Albert

Mountains… and more: Bern Marzili

For this week’s installment of Mountains… and more I would like to tell you a bit more about one of my favorite spots in Bern: the Marzili.

Bern is located close to the center of Switzerland and only one hour away from other cities such as Zurich, Basel, Lucerne or Lausanne. It is famous for it’s wonderfully preserved old town with their medieval fountains, the seat of the Swiss government and the bear park, where the city pays tribute to their heraldic animal. I grew up in a little village outside of Bern and graduated from high school in the city. So I would like to talk to you about the place I spent many lunch breaks, lazy afternoons and summer evenings relaxing: the Marzili.

The Marzili is an outdoor swimming pool near the river Aar. Rather uncharacteristically for expensive Switzerland, there is no entry fee. It boasts various basins such as a lap pool and diving area. Very generous lawns are able to accomodate the guests. If you’re not only interested in swimming, you will find beach volleyball fields and on most days you will also have enough space to set up a small football game. Another treat is the great view of the Federal Palace of Switzerland and cathedral. The Marzili is a great place to spend a few hours enjoying good company and terrific weather.

The greatest asset is the river Aar, as it gives guests the opportunity to swim and drift away in the refreshing waters of the river. As a word of caution, the Aar should not be underestimated and only experienced swimmers should attempt to go in. There are no lifeguards and swimming in the the river is definitely something to attempt at your own risk. Personally, I’m a terrible swimmer, so I spend most of my days there enjoying the sun, scenery and sports without venturing into the river. But most of my friends still living near Bern cannot wait for their first river swims of the year, even going in at temperatures well below the pool average. The Marzili is a Bernese institution and adored by locals.

A typical day in the Marzili for me consisted of arriving with a group of friends and looking for a spot near the volleyball field. A bit of swimming in the pool to cool off the heat was followed by a game of beach volleyball or by trying out the newest tricks with a football. Then my friends went off to enjoy swimming in the river, while I stayed back to guard their  valuables and read a great book. When the gates were closing and the sun was setting, we then walked a bit upstream to the Eichholz,  a riverside camp site with various fireplaces. The evening was then spent relaxing with a barbecue partying before heading back.

Similar to the Polyterrasse in Zurich you can reach the Marzili by taking a furnicular to a station very close-by. The upper station is located three minutes from the central train station in close proximity to the Bundeshaus, the Federal Palace of Switzerland. If you feel like walking, getting to the Marzili from the old town area is a fifteen minutes downhill walk with several staircases leading to the Marzili.

One of the great pleasures of Bern is that so many interesting attractions are in walking distance of each other. From the Marzili, you can take a ten-minute (uphill) walk to the museum district of the city. The most interesting places are the museum of history with a fantastic exhibition on Albert Einstein, the Swiss Alpine museum which has recently been modernized and the museum of communications, my favorite museum growing up.

Even closer to the Marzili and across the low bridge where most people actually enter the Aar, is Bern’s version of a zoo, the Tierpark Dählhölzli. I haven’t visited the Tierpark in a while, but I remember enjoying their penguins a lot. With miles of open space and a petting zoo, it is a great attraction for families with young children.

As you can see, the Marzili is a great place to take a short break from a day of sightseeing or an excellent venuefor a day-trip if you’re staying in the region anyway. Of course, as it is an outdoor swimming pool, I’d only recommend stopping by on a sunny summer day as otherwise you’ll find a rather deserted area.

Thank you for reading and as always, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Unfortunately I haven’t received my new camera yet but I will update the posts with photos as soon as it arrives, so stay tuned. If you have any questions about the Marzili or Bern, just let me know and I’ll be glad to help you out.

Sincerely yours,

Albert