Saturday, August 27, 2011

Switching over to Switzerland

Vista of Bern from the Rose Garden

See, who wouldn't want to live here?
(the water of the Aare River really is this colour!)

We took a late afternoon TGV from Paris - Gare de Lyon heading for Bern, and not knowing anything about either the town or Switzerland itself we were going “naked chef” - without recipe. Bern would be the first of many couch-surfing visits we were hoping to make on this European trip. We arrived at Banhoff Bern pretty late in the night and were greeted by two of the world’s loveliest people, Chantal and Marco. They rode their bikes down to greet us at the station and they even let me ride Chantal’s bike back to Marco’s place with him where we would be staying. This was the first event that really allowed me to see just how relaxed, civilized and held together life in Bern really is.

Vinko & Chanti, like old friends.

Marco and Colette and The Unmistakably Swiss Cow

On the way I saw Marco weaving across random roads, in front of buses and cars, onto tram lines and over traffic bridges…and no one seemed to mind! In fact they made space for us and slowed down, they were quite accepting of our presence there. This I thought must be something that many people can do and it is quite normal to treat cyclists with care and acceptance. And there was not a single sign saying you can’t do this or that…wow, common sense rules here.

...well, there was this sign.
Bern immediately took to me, and I took to it. It’s a beautiful town, it is the capital of Switzerland and so no expenses are spared on making it public and pedestrian transport friendly, while keeping it utterly stunning and magical. The landscape is dramatic enough with the river making a strong curve on both sides of the UNESCO centre old town, the banks on either side drop sharply to the cold gushing crystal water and beautiful bridges allow you to cross easily between both sides. From the bridges you can appreciate the lovely water a long way down below you and the charming magic of the amber glowing historical town, it’s castles and churches, bell towers and clocks, houses and cobble streets.

A couple having coffee on their 4th story "balcony"

In a few short words, Bern is what architects and urban planners all over the world dream of. It is picturesque, cultural and historic, easily navigable with outstanding public services and transport, high density and active, with bounds and bounds of beautiful green country side just nearby. Of course Switzerland being Switzerland, and this being the capital, everything works like clockwork, smooth and accurate, and everything runs on time and is reliable.

It would be a crime for a designer to miss out on this
(Lucia, look out for our little pink friend)
 We basically stayed in a 5 star hotel or holiday apartment while in Bern. Marco stayed over at Chanti’s place while we were there which meant we had his whole lovely apartment to ourselves! And what a nice apartment it was…spacious, bright, logical and functional, with Swiss taps, sinks, shower, toilet, cupboards, lamps, all of which work perfectly and look well designed.

One thing that really strikes you in Switzerland is just how much appreciation the people have for good graphic representation, and they implement this fantastically which tells me they really appreciate good design. This wonderfully clear visual communication if evident in everything that’s…well visual, from public transport diagrams to street signs, advertising posters to shop signs, warning signs to menus, door numbers to bus shelters. Everything appears thought out, designed and well presented…really, it is a great place for graphic design, architecture and in particular industrial design.

We took a quick trip out to the Westside Shopping Center to appreciate the design.
These were just your average public toilets
Westside, outside. This is a shopping center, for goodness sake!
So you could say we had a very comfortable stay in Bern, Chanti and Marco made sure we felt completely spoiled the whole time. They treated us like good old time friends or family, invited us home for a traditional dinner, took us out in the town, showed us the sights and sounds, and even tried to tell us as much as they could about the towns and countries interesting multi-cultural history. Marco even bought a historical guide book to Bern just to satisfy my intense curiosity!

The Kornhauskeller, founded beneath the 18th century granary, is spectacular to behold (and bedrink)

The start of the amazing raclette dinner that Chanti made us.
This was a couch surfing dream, not only a place to stay but what a place to stay and awesome friends to go with. All of this added up to me wanting to live in Bern, without joking if I got a job in Bern tomorrow I would be there at the drop of a hat! Ok, so I may be a little biased…I am an architect after all. Thank you guys for making us feel so welcome and giving us a great introduction to this amazing country! (…and see you soon)

We also spent a day in Lausanne, in the south of Switzerland on Lac LĂ©man. It's also a very pretty place, so here is some eye candy:

Jose, another new Couch Surfing friend, was a wonderful host who took us to a free jazz concert in the park

The End.


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