Saturday, 2 May 2009
We're leaving Switzerland tomorrow, more's the pity. I could easily live here; it's a very beautiful country and the pace and way of life are very sensibly human.
Yesterday we caught the train to Interlaken, which is a city set in a basin between two lakes (hence the name) at the foot of the alps. From the town you can catch an alpine railway which takes you up 4,000 metres to the summit of the Jungfrau. Failing that, you can sit around looking at the Eiger, or stroll around town and buy a souvenir. Souvenir shops, like souvenir shops everywhere sell tat, but Swiss tat is of the very highest quality: Swiss army knives, diamond encrusted Rolexes and carved cuckoo clocks. We were tempted by the Jungfrau railway but didn't have the necessary 8 hours for the return trip, so took a stroll up a hillside instead, through pastures rich with wildflowers and with cows driving themselves nuts with the incessant ringing of cowbells. Heidi country. Then it was a quick ride on a double decker train to Bern.
The capital of Switzerland is a bustling commercial centre like any other capital but it has two things to recommend it: a scarcity of tourists and an enchanting old town centre. Around the ancient gothic Munster is a labyrinth of the most intriguing shops, selling truly wonderful stuff: artworks, puppets, glassware, beads, antique watches, perfume, original clothing, great coffee. One second hand shop had a 1951 Norton 500 single with a sidecar, sitting there among the old dolls houses and boxes of 1950s china. It was in great nick. My hand twitched and moved on its own accord for the Visa card, and goodness knows what might have happened had Clemency not slapped my face and brought me back to my senses.
Incidentally, there are lots of motorcycles here. I am told that Switzerland has the highest number of Harley Davidsons per head of population in the world. And if you can't have a motorcycle, a Harley Davidson is the next best thing.
Today we walked down to the next village and back, a round trip of perhaps 6km. Then this afternoon drove to Romon, a walled village about 30 km away with a beautifully perserved chateau. The countryside here is densely populated by New Zealand standards, which gives a very wonderful lifestyle. Houses are set in small villages which look and feel rural, but the communities are close enough together to network and in cooperation they provide most of the facilities of a large city: good schools, hospitals and clinics, decent shops and services. It really is the best of both worlds. I can't speak French and can't think of a way to make a living, otherwise I might just quietly slip beneath the radar and stay on here. But, at 9:02 tomorrow (and this being Switzerland, it WILL be 9:02) the TGV leaves for Paris and we will be aboard.