Alex and I woke at 6:30 and I packed my last few things. On the way to the train station, we stopped for chocolate croissants one last time. While we waited for the train, a bird pooped on Alex, I felt bad because she was so sweet, but it was funny to see and it gave me something to smile about before leaving Paris. Alex cleaned up in the bathroom and walked me to my train. We said goodbye for now, but with the intention of meeting up again, hopefully during this same trip through Europe.
The train ride was becoming second nature to me. I got on, made myself at home and stared out the window listening to my iPod. I was starting to really enjoy the train ride. Watching the city I had just visited slowly disappear behind me and a new city appear before me provided some amount of closure to that leg of my journey. It was a chance to reflect on my last experience and plan for the next one.
The ride through Switzerland is incredible. Switzerland is by far the most beautiful country I have ever been in. The train ride took me past crystal clear lakes, rolling hills covered in lush foliage, and soaring mountains with snowcapped peaks. Every inch of Switzerland not taken up by fairytale village was covered in various shades of green foliage. From a distance, it looked like a giant model train set with beautiful hills and mountains laced with railroad tracks.
When my train arrived in Geneva, I wasn’t feeling it. I walked around the city and it didn’t interest me, so I got back on the train and went to Bern about 30 minutes later. I love my Eurail pass. I caught the next train to Bern and it even arrived early. Then I found out it wasn’t my train and I was going to an entirely different place that I had never heard of. The guy eating McDonald’s in the seat across from me told me which stop to get off at and transfer trains. I got off in Lusanne, maybe, and asked the conductor where I needed to go for Bern, he told me track 2 but it was leaving in less than 5 minutes. I felt like Jack Bauer racing beneath the train tracks to catch my next train, stopping only to sample free iced tea from a cute girl handing out promotional bottles.
When I finally made it onto the train, I met a bunch of Americans Bern-bound, a group of girls from Chicago and two guys from Iowa. We talked and shared stories of our travels as travelers do. When we reach Bern, we said goodbye to the Iowans and I walked with the Chicago girls to their hostel, taking one tram through the city, sans ticket. Lucky for me there was a bed available in the hostel and I made a reservation for two nights.
That afternoon the Chicagoans and I walked through Bern and down to the riverside. Walking through Bern, I was awestruck with how beautiful a place it was. The entire city was spotless, not a single piece of trash anywhere, I looked. The city looks as if it’s been transported out of a fairy tale. All of the buildings are old wood frame houses with little roofs and gabled windows. Bending around the city center is a fast moving river of vibrant blue water that you can see to the bottom of. Sloping up on one side of the river is the town of Bern, and on the other side are steep mountainsides with beautiful little houses. Connecting the two banks are a series of very tall bridges surrounding the city and spanning the river below. The city is so clean you can swim in the river snaking through the city, a claim most cities cannot make. If the water had been warmer, I would have swum in it, but it was somewhere around 16 Celsius that day. Nevertheless, we saw a few Swiss brave the cold and dive in.
Along the riverbank, we met some Germans staying in our hostel and made plans to meet up that night. We continued our walk along the river bank in search of syringe vending machines the Chicago girls had heard Rick Steves talk about. None could be found and it began to rain. We raced back to the city, running from one covered area to the next.
That night the Chicagoans and I met a couple from South Carolina, also staying in our hostel, and walked to a restaurant we had been recommended by the hostel. The restaurant was outside of town, across a bridge, and next to one of the former bear pits the city is named for. The menu had entrees listed at 30CHF, about $35. We left.
That night I bought the cheapest food I could, a McDonald’s Hamburger for 2.50CHF, the Big Mac was 11CHF, roughly $14. Back at the hostel we rendezvoused with the Germans and drank beer in the hostel. I told them about my trip and they told me about theirs. They were driving from Dusseldorf, Germany to a wedding in Switzerland the next day and had stopped in Bern for the night. One of the guys, in particular, recommended I try the traditional dark beer that Dusseldorf is famous for, and also that I should have 5.0, the cheapest beer you can buy in Germany. No advertising, no label, other than 5.0, its alcohol percent. By the time the Germans and I were done talking, we were the last people left in the common room of the hostel, and we called it a night.