Friday, August 21, 2015


We spent this week in Switzerland, namely Geneva and Bern. We didn't know anybody in Geneva, but I remembered it as one of my favorite cities from my trip 50 years ago. We walked in the old town and along both sides of the lake, took the municipal ferry across the lake, saw the botanical garden and the outside of the UN. Usually Les and I are in agreement on our opinions, but not this time: I still found Geneva very appealing, while Les didn't feel at home there.

Place des Nations in Geneva

We got sticker shock on arriving at Geneva, which continued during our entire stay in Switzerland. Phone calls and SMS messages are six to twenty times what they cost in other European countries, food prices and transportation fares two or three times as much, etc.

Fruit market in the old town section of Geneva

Next we went to Bern, where we stayed with an Esperanto speaker through Pasporta Servo, but actually we already knew our host Ueli from the New Years gathering in Xanten, Germany, two and a half years ago. Ueli lives and has a medical practice in Zollikofen, a small town near Bern. He arranged a meeting of the local Esperanto group at a restaurant aptly named Esperanto, and we met some interesting people.

Location of our meeting with local Esperantists

We walked in the old town, and spent a couple of hours at the excellent Museum of Telecommunications, also some time at the Swiss Rifle Museum. Bern has kept live bears since 1440, so when I was there 50 years ago, I went to look at them. But I got depressed at the sight of them in their gloomy concrete pit, and this time had no desire to seek out the bears. I should have checked online, because I just discovered that in 2009 the pits were replaced by a spacious bear park—hooray!

Old town section of Bern

Les liked the chimneys.

Main entrance of the Münster in Bern

We passed the most marvelous public playground I've ever seen. It had about ten sections: one for playing in mud and water, one for jumping onto a large pad, one part a tiny soccer area with goals for practicing shots, etc. I had the feeling that you wouldn't see such a playground in the U.S. because of liability concerns.

Small section of the wonderful playground, with the soft jumping pad

We learned a lot about the Swiss form of government, the health care system, and compulsory military service. It's one of the benefits of being with a resident for a couple of days; in the cities where we use hotels, we don't really learn much about the city or country.

In Zollikofen Les finally got a good photo of the bird he's loved since Scotland. Its call mimics the Morse code letter "R" which means "OK, everything's fine". But the bird is quite elusive, so it's hard to even spot it, never mind get a picture. Les' three favorite things about Europe are: the trains, the buildings and bridges, and the Eurasian collared dove.

Les finally got this photo of a Eurasian collared dove.

We've been disappointed since we started using our Eurail Pass two weeks ago. You're required to reserve a seat on many trains, and it turns out to be quite costly at times and often impossible to do online when you're not also buying a ticket. The only advantage seems to be that it's first class, which didn't mean much to us, as we were happy traveling second class. But we discovered, completely by accident, that Geneva and Zurich have first class lounges, and we took advantage of this perk while changing trains in Zurich. The lounge had comfortable seats, free espresso drinks, beautiful bathrooms. Quite a switch from some station experiences where there haven't even been seats in the waiting areas.

Enjoying the first class lounge in the Zurich train station

The train ride from Bern to Bologna today was beautiful, especially in southern Switzerland. Another first class perk we discovered was free drinks and snacks, just like the airlines used to do many years ago. I feel a bit stupid that we missed our snacks on the first leg of the journey, because I didn't realize they were free and said "no thanks" when it was offered.

View from the train window in southern Switzerland

We passed this church three times as we corkscrewed our way through tunnels and bridges up the side of a mountain.

I misread a map when choosing our hotel in Bologna; I thought it was close to the train station, but it turned out to be one and a half miles away. No problem, the weather was beautiful and we got to see a lot of Bologna as we walked there. Later on, I spent another hour walking in the old section while Les got caught up on computer work. We do that fairly frequently, because I enjoy walking around each new city, while Les needs his share of screen time.

Bologna is a nice city which reminds me of Merida in Mexico, where I spent a week in January; the climate, the architecture, the large plazas, the relaxing pastel colors, and the flora seem quite similar to me. There don't seem to be many tourists, there's little traffic, and the people in the streets appear to be happy, tons of sidewalk dining—and not near as many smokers on the sidewalks as in Switzerland.

Tomorrow we start the final big Esperanto event of our trip: the weeklong Itala Kongreso in San Benedetto del Tronto.