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22 February 2008

Planes and Trains and an Hour in Bern

My trip began with yet another early morning RyanAir flight from Stansted. By now I knew the routine: Wake up at 3:30 AM, make sure my backpack is packed and ready, walk to the bus stop by 4:15 AM, hopefully get to Stratford by 4:45. Get on the National Express coach bus, buy a return ticket for £15, put on my ipod, and maybe start falling back asleep as the bus arrives at the airport. Then, depending on whether I'm running late for my flight, I dash through the terminal toward the RyanAir counters.

This time, there was a long queue of people waiting to start their winter holiday (can I say "snowcation"?). Plenty of people had skis and snowboards to check in, especially on my flight. I quickly passed through security, bought my bottle of water and a snack for myself at the Boot's next to the exit from the security screening, and trekked to my departure gate. Yes, it has become a routine, but an exciting routine, because each time I'm headed to a new destination. And it's hard to remain calm when you're a few hours away from being in the Alps!

Soon I was in the air and headed to Friedrichshafen, Germany.

These short flights are really easy to just hop on. You just begin to settle into your seat, and suddenly the flight attendants are preparing you for landing. And just like that I arrived at Friedrichshafen airport, which is a really small airport. I walked outside to the main road and to the bus stop. The airport is only about one mile outside the center of Friedrichshafen, but it's already in the forest! There was only one bus to take, and it took me straight to the harbor in about 10 minutes. I found the ticket office and asked them the best way to buy tickets for my journey.

I was expecting to have to buy a ticket for the ferry, then another ticket for the train to Zürich, and a third ticket from Zürich to Interlaken. Well, that's what I might have to do in America, but not here. The ticket salesman was able to sell me my tickets all together as one ticket! I just had to choose which route I wanted: Via Lucerne or via Bern. I checked the schedules for transferring trains and saw that I could easily fit in a very quick 1-hour visit to Bern, so just like that, I was on my way to Bern (and then Interlaken)!

The ferry soon departed to go across the Bodensee to Switzerland. The ferry dropped us off in the small town of Romanshorn. And just like that, I was in Switzerland! The ferry and train schedules are well synchronized (as usual in a German-speaking country), so I had maybe 5 minutes to "see the city" (i.e. walk down one block) before boarding the train. And I was impressed yet again! This train was the cleanest and coolest looking of all the trains I had been on so far. I had to double-check that I didn't accidentally walk into the first-class car.

The train took off. It passed through Zürich and continued on toward Bern. The countryside flew by in the window. There were a few rolling hills, but still mostly flat land. I was not in the Alps yet. I could tell that this was a different country - I mean, the towns and buildings looked very similar to those I'd seen in Germany, but there was something in the landscape that distinctively declared that this was Switzerland. And no, there was no prominent smell of gourmet cheese or fine chocolate, disappointingly.

A few hours later, I was in Bern. I had just one hour before my train was to depart, so I rushed out of the train station and began to power-explore!

Bern is the capital of Switzerland (but not the biggest city). It's a very cool city to visit. The buildings have a very distinct architecture: Almost all of the city center is built from a greenish sandy-colored stone. It sounds weird to describe, but it all works and all seems appropriately Swiss.

I walked to the Bundesplatz and saw the Swiss Parliament and the Swiss National Bank. I traversed the main shopping streets and made my way to the Kirchenfeldbrücke, a bridge which crosses high above the river Aare. There are some amazing views of the city and over the river from this bridge!

As thoroughly as I had planned this trip beforehand, as I was walking through Bern I realized that I hadn't anticipated some practicalities of visiting the Alps in the winter. Namely, it was going be really cold and snowy in the mountains. (As a boy from LA, I naturally get freaked out when temperatures get so low; I don't know what to do!) So I needed to get a pair of gloves (auf Deutsch: Handshuhe!). And conveniently, there was a sportswear store right there on the main street. I quickly bought the gloves, and in that same store, I saw the most fascinating elevator (lift):

Imagine a conveyor belt, running vertically. This elevator was just that, a series of compartments constantly moving up on one side and down the other. The conveyor doesn't stop, so if you want to get on, you have only one second to jump on! It seemed really fun and looked incredibly cool. I was feeling the time pressure to get back to the train station, so I didn't try it myself (regrettably).

I rushed back to the train station, and I was soon on my final train of the day, to Interlaken.

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