Two Days in Bern

Gail and I have just completed another portion of the Via Francigena pilgrimage which started in Canterbury and will eventually take us to Rome. This year, we walked 575 kilometres from Tergnier to Gy in France. Although we planned to walk about 40 kilometres further to Besançon, an unfortunate fall that severely limited Gai’s ability to walk, cut our journey a tiny bit short.

However, we had also planned a post-walk holiday that would take us from Besançon and through Switzerland by train, before returning home to Winnipeg. We resolved to continue with our plans, as carefully and as slowly as Gail’s ability required, minimizing our walking and using buses, trams and trains wherever possible. Here’s a day-by-day account of our progress.   

Notes from our stay in Bern:

For a capital city, Bern is surprisingly diminutive. With a population barely pushing 140,000, its core can be easily traversed on foot in less than an hour. It helps that the Aare River loops around the city on three sides, limiting expansion. And, of course, the city has expanded beyond its natural boundaries over the centuries, bringing the true population to 360,000, suburbs included. For the most part, sights to be seen are confined to the bustling city centre or hug the pleasant, treed banks of the Aare River.

Owing to lessons learned from a massive fire in 1405, Bern is entirely built from a locally harvested limestone, lending an overwhelming uniformity to the city’s appearance. What’s immediately noticeable, though, are the continuous building façades with street-level arcades running the length of the road. Car traffic is almost non-existent—most streets are instead populated with buses and trams—so exploring the arcades, filled with interesting shops, bars and restaurants makes for a pleasant, pedestrian-friendly stroll. 

The premier arcaded street is Kramgrasse, which stretches over half the length of the city centre from the Zytglogge (Clock Tower) to Nydegg Bridge crossing the Aare River to the Bear Park and Zentrum Paul Klee (more on those in a moment). Unique to Kramgrasse are the cellar doors leading directly from the street down to shops lying under the arcade. It’s an intensely shopaholic experience, perusing shops within the arcade and dipping down narrow stone steps to explore those that lay below.

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