Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Bern, Switzerland

My original plan was to visit Bern (Switzerland's capital) on a Sunday. Why? All the shops are closed and there's zilch traffic which makes exploring the old town area more enjoyable. Unfortunately it was due to rain on Sunday so I switched to Saturday. Turned out to be a big mistake as Saturday is market day and the old town area was chock full of stalls and people. So, me being a flexible kind of guy, I decided to cycle to Thun (20 miles away) and return to Bern in the afternoon when (hopefully) the farmers market is over.
Passing through a village a road sign announced a schloss (castle) nearby. Usually a castle means high walls, fortifications and so on but, sometimes it's just a big house as this one turns out to be. The date 1760 inscribed above the front door tells me when it was built.

The Aar River runs through downtown Thun (population 42,000) and forms Lake Thun. The castle and church tower above the town.

Restaurants line the river banks and on the right you can see several people in the water doing stand up kayaking/surfing.

That's a covered bridge for pedestrians and cyclists.

This is a backside view of Thun Castle.

Passing through a villlage I came upon some farm tractors noisily idling alongside the road. Don't know what they were doing (the drivers spoke German) or why the drivers were dressed up but the tractors were spiffy looking.

I went up to each tractor driver and asked if they spoke English. Nope. Were they on their way to a parade?

Looks to be the same model tractor as the previous photo but it's lighter gray color.

This red beauty with the fancy black upholstery makes me think it wasn't used for farming but maybe for fancy occasions like funerals and weddings.

I was cycling through an underpass and came upon a half-dozen guys spray painting (graffiti) on the walls. It isn't a cheap "hobby" as a can of spray cost about $10. First you have to spray over the previous" work" and then you do your thing. One of the guys says it will take a dozen cans for his work ($120). "Yeah but" I ask, "is what you're doing legal"? I'm told it is.

So, they spend all that money, use all that time doing their work and for what? Exposure? I don't think so as it's on a concrete wall in a little used road underpass which gets zilch traffic passing through except for the occasional lost cyclist (like myself who took a wrong turn through farmland) or hiker passing by.

I ask, "So, you guys paint your works of art but, what's to stop another group coming tommorrow and spray painting over today's work"? Several guys look at each other and just shrug their shoulders with one saying "that's the way it goes".

I passed this building and did a double take. What are those things? Ants, termites, worms? Looks like a closer inspection was called for.

Even upon closer inspection I still don't have a clue as to what they are advertising or promoting.

Passing through the town of Belp I spot about 30 fire trucks of all shapes, sizes and ages parked on school grounds and of course nosey me has to check it out.

It turns out to be a festival with fire trucks and emergency vehicles from towns, cities and villages up to several hundred miles away getting together. However, most of the vehicles aren't state-of-the-art but, classic and historic. Very cool.

The vehicles are sent out to perform tasks and points are awarded. The fire truck approaching me was built in 1928.

Definite 1950's look to this one.

Hook and ladder.

Points are awarded for looks. Hence the flowers.

VW bus

I've visited the company/factory that produced this emergency vehicle. Great for zipping up hillsides and going off-road up steep terrain..

Another classic.

I got off the paved road and was cycling on a dirt trail running alongside a river. Came upon this ferry service taking hikers, walkers, bikers to the other side. The boat is attached to steel cable
wires running across the river. No motor is used as it's powered by the fast moving river current.

It's a nice hot day (85 degrees) in early September. Saw lots of people in inner tubes pass by. In this photo there's a man and woman in the water swimming past.

Here they're playing cricket as I make my way to Bern's city center. That's the backside of Switzerland's parliament building in the background.

Returning to Bern in the afternoon proved to be an even bigger fiasco. Besides the farmers market still going on there was a rally by one of Switzerland's major political parties in progress in front of the parliament building. Many streets were blocked off and hundreds of police in riot gear were patrolling the area. I was snapping pictures of the picturesque river gorge directly behind the parliament building when a police officer (in full riot gear and brandishing a rifle) approached and asked if I'd like him to snap a photo of me. "Sure", I said.

This is Parliament Square in front of the parliament building. Rallies, protests and demonstrations are pretty common. About 5,000 people are here today.

Bern has about 20 of these fountains in the downtown area.

The colorful statues above the fountains are hundreds of years old. Nice cold drinking water flows out the fountains--great for filling up my water bottle on the bike.