🇨🇭Have kids? Here are 3 things to do and best places to visit in Bern, the capital of Switzerland, the city of BEARS that is one of the most beautiful places we have visited as a family during our six-week summer camping road trips across Europe. . . before the corona virus locked us all down, that is!
Hey, who said we can’t travel anymore??? Oh yes, we can!!! Not by plane, not by car nor train, but VIRTUALLY. You can relive those fun-filled moments by using pictures and videos that you have collected over the years as vehicles to go back in time. Buhaahah… You are probably laughing now, but it DOES work!
Chances are each of us has taken thousand of photos and videos just for this very reason–to imprint those best moments of our lives–from your favorite holidays, birthday parties or just when you were sitting together with your loved ones sipping coffee and smiling stupidly to a selfie.
Guess what?? Now all of us can use it to transport ourselves, in virtual reality that is, into those special places and moments in time. Now, with the gift of time that the coronavirus lockdown has given most (if not all) of us, YOU finally have the time to enjoy it all–all these photos (and maybe organize your collections a bit). This is what we have been doing.
First stop in this virtual camping road trip: Bern, Switzerland. (The video is at the bottom).
Bern was our 4th stop, right after visiting my old haunts in Freiburg, Germany, during our trip back from Poland to Spain on our second camping road trip across Europe. I remember it very well because we had enjoyed two wonderful days there with our dear friends and their their kids.
Interestingly, this friendship first began some time ago in what was once called (probably still is) the Switzerland of the East–the wild and wonderful Kyrgyzstan. In the past few years this friendship has grown, with the easterner moving west and the westerner moving east, meeting eventually in this city of Bears. And now this friendship has grown even bigger to include wives and children and parents too.
Switzerland is not only about awe-inspiring landscapes, mountains and cows with bells on their necks, but it’s also about interesting cities–beautiful and majestic in their simplicity.
Life is good in Switzerland, it seems. And it also seemed that people really appreciate being part of a community. There’s always a bunch of people who want to do things together. It applies not only to playgrounds, but also to neighbors, kindergartens or even shops. Our friends choose to shop in co-ops which support local farmers rather than products imported from remote countries or regions.
If you only have one day to see Bern with kids what do you do; where do you go?
The first thing that we explored in Bern was the Bear Pit. Yes exactly, the Bern Bear Pit, Barenpark. No kidding! This is a must-see attraction! You can see bears roaming at the river bank in the heart of the city, chillin’ while being fed and taken care of by bear-keepers (is it a real word?..hmm).
The Bern bears, one of them is a female with a rather reserved character named Björk, live in. . . what else, a Bear Park of about 5,000 square-meters (or about 53,800 square-feet for you ‘Mericans) right along the river bank “in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage site”. That’s at least the size of 12 professional-size basketball courts, where the bears can do pretty much what bears do, even swim and people-watch.
If it wasn’t for the bears, Bern would probably not exist (or maybe just named differently). The legend says that the city was called this way because of the animals who used to live there and were hunted for by the first settlers. This place is unbelievably unique or odd, in a good way. Kids loved looking down at the strolling bears, just over the protective barrier with the view of the city, just over the crystal-clear, turquoise Aare river.
On your way to the pit, stroll down one of the central streets that begins at Zytglogge, a clock tower constructed more than 600 years ago that used to serve as the first city gate. Best time to see it is four minutes before the hour. If your lucky you might be able to see a unique spectacle of revolving/twirling figures as the clock strikes the hour.
Continue walking down the Kramgasse and Gerechtigkeitsgasse towards the river. If your pockets or wallets seem too heavy, unload some of their contents right then and there, as you will be passing by many little shops, cinemas, restaurants and boutiques. Kramgrasse is the “most beautiful alley in the world” according to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe–you know, that German freethinker dude who wrote Faust and possibly big fan of eroticism in literature?!!??! (Okay, OK, maybe NOT for the kids, eh?).
Hey, make sure you make it through the street though. Apart from the Bear Pit at the end of it you are going to see, what I think is the most beautiful sight there, the crystal-clear, turquoise water of the Aare river that gently hugs the city.
If you are courageous enough, you could even jump into it together with the finest Bernese (?) swimmers who let themselves be taken by a fierce current kilometers away. It’s quite a sport and a right of passage for locals, or so I heard.
What was quite interesting to see is that many of the swimmers actually pack their clothes and belongings in water-proof bags and take it down the river and around the city with them.
If you survive it, you could definitely claim to have tried an extreme sport. Not for kiddos OBVIOUSLY! Hell, not even for me. And definitely for STRONG SWIMMERS ONLY.
NO WORRIES, there is another fantastic place you can bring your KIDS to. About a short walking distance downhill from the Bear Pit is a very cool, old-school playground called Der Spielplatz Längmuur. Do you like your children to be free and wild?? Go there!!!
It is a must-go stop for kids and definitely something that we would not have found if it weren’t for our friends! It is a playground run by a co-op and maintained by parents. But everyone is welcome to come and join in the fun! That means, it’s FREE! Check the link for the hours and details or the picture (if you can decipher German).
It is a playground that has its own character that comes from what looked like lovingly hand-made things. The climbing structures are fantastic. There is a castle, a balance beam with a cushion (like for gymnastics) that the kids used as trampoline. . .
What else?. . . a pirate ship, water pit, sandbox, a broken piano that the kids experimented with, many different bikes and scooters and fixer-upper things on wheels, and a soccer/football pitch. There is also a make-shift stage there for possibly theater or concerts in the summers.
Each child can play with whatever he or she wants. EVERYTHING SEEMS BROKEN BUT IN A VERY GOOD WAY! You know, the kind of way that we (as parents) likely have grown up–playing outside with IMPROVISED TOYS and made things work with our friends. . . And it’s all good? And everyone-played-for-hours-with-broken-toys-kinda-good? Yup, that one!
What’s good, especially for parents, is that the playground is an enclosed space right next to the river with lots of shade from fully matured trees! So, you can watch the Aare river swimmers and floaters pass by. You do appreciate the shade in the middle of the summer! There’s also picnic tables so that will save you lots of money (remember this is Switzerland).
Our kids went nuts in this place and could not believe that they could ride on whatever bike they wanted and kicked whatever ball they could find. I suppose this is what monkeys and kids like most–freedom!!!!
This is the second time we’ve been to Switzerland as a a family and a few more times individually. We’d like to move here if we can. Life in Switzerland can be pretty expensive though. Once my husband slowly sipped his beer for at least an hour because it cost way more than the 1-euro per liter of industrial beer that he’s used to drinking in Spain.
People need to be creative and come up with ways to split the costs, such as coops and other alternative lifestyle. The sense of community is strong wherever you look.
What struck me most though was the peaceful atmosphere that lingered in the city and is reflected on people’s faces. People were not in a rush and look pretty much relaxed as they went about their daily business. And this is the capital of the country and the 5th most populous. Maybe it has something to do with wealth. Also maybe it has something to do with a rational and efficient lifestyle they lead. Maybe.
This is what probably brought people like Albert Einstein to Bern. In the positive ambience of this city, he found his inspiration and came up with the Theory of Special Relativity. . . You know, E = mc2. . . I almost felt intellectual there. . . OK, Okay. . . only for a second while strolling the streets… hmm… did not come up with any theory though (not yet that is!). Hey, but maybe you will??
Check out Albert Einstein’s house in downtown Bern and you might just let the atmosphere affect you strong enough to bear ingenious fruits. We’ll check that out next time we’re in Bern.
So, when we are all able to travel again and you’re planning a summer vacation trip, keep this little city of bears in mind.
HERE’S A FAMILY VIDEO TO BRING A BIT OF BERN TO YOU
For those of you, especially with children, who cannot be there, here’s a little 3-minute family-friendly, kid-approved video of the things you can do with your kids in Bern, Switzerland.
Where to next? Lausanne, then Geneva, Switzerland to see the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. . . So nice to be. . . FREE. . . electrons. 😉
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