Saturday, December 3

Bern and bears

Almost a year ago we stopped overnight in the city of Bern, or Berne as it’s sometimes known. I last visited the city in 1990. I recalled being enthralled by the grandeur of its cobblestone streets and the covered stone arcades of its old town. Its earliest dwellings, built in 12th Century, have been carefully preserved. Their stone facades made for an impressive site as they gracefully wrap around the banks of the river Aare.

Today, Bern is the fourth most populous city in Switzerland, home to more than 125,000. It also serves as a defacto capital for the federal alpine nation. Its name is derived from the German word for bear. In keeping with these origins the city has maintained a drab bear pit by the river Aare since the 16th Century. When I lasted visited the town several bored animals were restlessly wandering through the stark enclosure.

I’m pleased to report that, two decades later, the bears have been relocated to a spacious new park on the sloping riverbank. When we visited, two families of healthy looking animals could be seen frolicking in the snow. The old bear pit is now abandoned.

Perhaps the most famous sight in Bern is the Zytglogge, or time bell, an elaborate medieval clock tower that displays a collection of moving puppets each time a new hour is struck. However, the most memorable sight during our visit was a display of Christmas candles that covered a plaza in front of imposing 15th Century town hall. It seems we timed our visit well as the display was gone the following morning.

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