After spending nearly three weeks cooped up inside our shoe-box (temporary) apartment, we decided it was time to use our car, and take Nels someplace new. Living in Basel means we are close to many different cultures, languages, currencies and highways. The difficult part is deciding on where to go ... and so, we took our virgin adventure to the beautiful capital of Switzerland, Bern. And, it's only just one hour south ...
First of all, the highways here are pristine. Once you cruise up into it all, it's so spacious and careful and speedy. Everyone "generally" drives the limit, and we discovered that speeding is monitored by cameras, so no CHP chasing after you. I enjoyed driving, and quickly forgot my fears of being in a foreign land.
Cruising into Bern was a breathtaking experience, which might sound silly to us years from now, but the beauty and age of this place really is most classically Swiss. Before visiting Basel, I had visions of mountaintops, glorious stone bridges, dancing nuns and children ... Basel is nice, but it doesn't let you know you're in Switzerland. Bern helped remind us right away.
We stayed right in the heart of the city, in a decent hotel called Goldener Schlüssel. This seemed like the logical choice, given we were up for walking everywhere, however, it backfired on us. During the later hours, the music and bar scene got loud and rowdy just outside our window, and this didn't comply with an early bedtime for the kid. Our room was also quite small, so not much privacy.
That first night we were excited to dig into some fondue, or rather, I WAS excited to dig into some fondue. This classic swiss culinary treat actually happens to be a Campo family Christmas Eve tradition, something the four of us would enjoy right before dreaming of sugarplums ... it has history with me, and so I was anxious to really taste it from the motherland. We wondered down the main streets of Bern, not far from our hotel, and found the NYT recommended "cozy-wooded" hole in the wall Le Mazot, the perfect place to hide with a toddler in front of a hot pot of melted cheese. This place did not disappoint, price was right, and the beer was simple and crisp. My itch was scratched. Check.
The next morning we had plans to take Nels to the Paul Klee art museum, selfishly what Todd and I had originally planned for the day ... but, we knew it probably wasn't fair to keep Nels strapped to a stroller, so we opted to try an outdoor activity, preferably involving a train.
After a quick stroll through the city markets, we happened upon a brochure in our hotel about the beautiful Gurtenpark, located on the nearby Bernese Mountain. You hop on a little red tram (train) into a magnificent panoramic view over the city of Bern, the Bernese Alps and the Jura mountains. Here you can mountain bike, disc golf, sled and (weather dependent) ski. AND, as a huge added bonus to us, the world's greatest kid-park-fantasyland. Mini steam trains, that you can RIDE, working mini bumper cars, and a huge treehouse with nets and slides and ramps galore. Nels was immediately sucked into this legendary hands-on art scupture called the Chugelibahn, a kind of oversized science-fair-like-pinball-machine. Here you can pry, turn, stimulate and shake a rubber ball through these various roller coaster paths. It was mesmerizing.
Later, after a hour of trying to nap and getting nowhere, we took to the streets of Bern, to people watch and window shop, underneath the long covered-shopping promenades, known to be some of the best in Europe. Aside from a few boring household purchases, we did find an old family chocolatier, Confiserie Tschirren, and were able to sneak in a few truffles before they closed. Before dinner, we needed to fit in just one more thing, a peek at Bären Park, a "bear park" along the River Aare, that houses the city’s mascots (and namesake) ... a couple of big, brown bears named Björk and Finn, who were both sound asleep. Catching even a slight glimpse at either of them took some time too, as this was quite touristy.
Saturday night dinner was easier on Nels, considering he wasn't too keen on steamy hot cheese, or the greasy chicken fingers from Le Mazot (obviously NOT their specialty). We had to keep it close and simple, due to the sudden downpour, and his napless mood. We luckily discovered Kornhaus Cafe, a beautiful, classic space, located just down the street. The food was yummy, great salads and cream-free soups. Todd enjoyed a beautiful plate of lamb, while Nels and I shared a bowl of buttered spaghetti (his favorite).
If we had it to do over, I'd say we might have only stayed one night ... even though we were itching for an adventure. We would have tried for a bigger hotel, maybe even an Airbnb, to keep things more private and easier on Nels (hard to do in Europe, where most spaces are tight and efficient). The best part was our proximity to home, and later that day, a nap, for all of us this time.