Buy a Swiss Pass
The best investment I made in Switzerland was buying a Swiss Pass for the integrated Swiss Travel System. Pass holders can use the public transport network unlimited times for the duration of the validity of the pass. This includes use of the country's extensive rail network and reduced fares on some of the country's scenic routes. Trams and buses can also be used to get around many Swiss cities such as the capital, Bern.
I purchased a standard second class Swiss Pass that was valid for 4 days. I bought my pass at the Travel Centre at Zurich Airport's train station. It was very convenient to buy and only took 5 minutes or so. Remember to present your passport to prove you are eligible as a tourist. Nationals of Switzerland and Liechtenstein are not eligible to buy the Swiss Pass.
My four-day pass cost 272 CHF and was a sound investment, especially considering I made five or six intercity trips during my stay.
An added bonus is that the Swiss Pass also acts as a museum pass allowing free entry to many of the country's best museums and castles. As the Swiss Pass is quite an investment financially, make sure you look after it. They don't replace lost or stolen passes.
- Historical Travel
Cycling in Bern
Pro Velo Bern is the lobby of local bicycle users, which since 1978 has been campaigning for more space on the streets, uninterrupted bicycle routes, enough bicycle parking spaces, a safe traffic climate and better connections to public transport.
They want to see to it that "the bicycle will be perceived as a fully-fledged means of transportation."
As an out-of-towner just riding around Bern for a day on a rented bike, my impression was that they have been very successful in all of this -- but on their website they show dozens of trouble spots that have not (yet) been resolved to the satisfaction of local cyclists.
Additional photos: More cyclists in Bern, 2008.
Bicycle routes in Switzerland
Within just a few years in the 1990s, the Switzerland Mobility Foundation (formerly Cycling in Switzerland Foundation) succeeded in establishing a network of nine national cycling routes with a total length of over 3000 kilometers and standard signposting throughout Switzerland in all cantons.
These national routes have one-digit numbers, such as route # 8 in the photo.
Route 8 is called the Aare Route because it begins at the source of the Aare River (at a mountain village called Gletsch which is 1,757 meters above sea level) and follows this river downstream via Oberwald, Meiringen, Interlaken, Spiez, Thun, Bern, Biel, Solothurn and Aarau. It ends after 305 kilometers at a place called Koblenz, near Bad Zursach, where the three rivers Limmat, Reuss and Aare join together.
In addition to the nine national routes, there are also fifty-five regional routes with two-digit numbers, such as # 94 and # 34 in the photo.
Route 34 is called the Alter Bernerweg (Old Bernese Way) and goes through "the former peasant lands of the Bernese Lords" for 176 kilometers from Estavayer-le-Lac to Baden. They say this is an easy route which can be done comfortably in four days.
Route 94 makes what they call a "sweeping arc through a variety of landscapes in seven cantons" for 258 kilometers from L’Areuse to Zürich.
According to the website Cycling in Switzerland, these cycle routes are "generally accessible paths or roads with as far as possible little or no motorized traffic, ideally surfaced with tarmac or concrete." When they have to go along busy roads they are along cycle paths or "in lanes with safe crossings or turning-off points."
Second photo: Route #8 signs by the Aare River in Bern.
Outdoor bicycle parking
In all the surrounding countries (Germany, France, Italy, Austria) cyclists are careful to lock their bikes TO something when they leave them unattended, in fact the standard procedure is to lock both the frame and the front wheel to some unmovable object such as a bicycle stand that has been set up especially for this purpose.
Not so in Switzerland. Here the city councils simply paint big boxes on the streets and paint bicycle symbols in them. People park their bikes in these boxes and simply block the rear wheel with a tin lock. Evidently there is enough social control in Swiss cities that this is adequate protection against theft, even though it would be theoretically possible for someone to pick up one of these bikes and walk off with it.
For someone who mainly cycles in other countries, this takes a bit of getting used to.
The parking area in the photo is on Kornhausplatz by the Bern City Theater, at the south end of the Kornhaus Bridge.
Like most self-respecting cities, Bern also offers the possibility to travel around town by Velo-Taxi.
So far I've never tried this, since I prefer to do the pedaling myself, but in principle I'm all in favor of it.
This short funicular connects the center of Bern (Bundesterasse, near the Federal Parliament Building) with the Marzili district 32 meters lower, by the banks of the Aare River. In the summer, lots of local people use this funicular to get to and from the Marzili outdoor swimming pool down by the river.
The length of the track is 105 meters, and the trip takes about one minute.
From 1885 to 1973 this funicular was run by a "water counterbalanced" system, which was replaced in 1974 by an automatic electric system which is still in use today.
Second and third photos: As in most funiculars, there are two cars which take turns going from top to bottom and bottom to top, and pass each other in the middle.
Fourth photo: Looking down at the Marzili district with the Aare River and the outdoor swimming pool.
Bundesterasse 7, CH-3011 Bern
46°56'45.44" North; 7°26'31.74" East
Bern has a fine system of public transport, including three tram lines and several bus lines of various sorts. So if your bicycle has a flat tire or something you should have no trouble getting around town.
Second photo: Trams at the Kornhaus Bridge, as seen from above.
Third photo: Tram # 9.
Fourth photo: I was glad to see that Bern still has trolleybuses, which impressed me when I lived there in the 1960s. These are electric vehicles which can maneuver like busses, to a certain extent, but they get their electricity from double strands of overhead wires. The bus is the photo is the number 12 going through the Gerechtigkeitsgasse, where I used to live, on its way to the Zentrum Paul Klee.
Fifth photo: Inside the # 9 tram.
Trains to Bern
From Frankfurt to Bern I usually take the German InterCityExpress (ICE) train by way of Mannheim, Karlsruhe, Freiburg and Basel. This is a direct connection (no change of train) and the journey from Frankfurt to Bern takes just over four hours.
There are four direct ICE trains from Frankfurt to Bern on an average day, and twelve more connections if you don't mind changing trains in Basel.
The main railroad station in Bern was extensively renovated and rebuilt in the year 2003. It has thirteen through tracks on the main level, and four tracks that end here on a lower level, for regional trains.
Train service from Bern to all parts of Switzerland is excellent and frequent, for instance there are 36 trains per day to Basel, 36 to Geneva, 27 to Locarno, 67 to Spiez and 40 to Zürich.
Second photo: Passengers in the main station.
Third photo: Boarding a train in Bern main station. Note the bicycle symbol on one of the doors.
Bern is one of nine cities in Switzerland where you can borrow a bicycle absolutely free for up to four hours just by leaving them your passport or ID-card and a deposit of twenty Swiss francs, both of which you get back when you return the bike.
Besides Bern, this service is also available in the Swiss cities of Geneva, Lausanne, Neuenburg, Renens, Sion, Thun, Vevey, and Zürich. The service is funded in part by the cities involved as a means of providing jobs for people who would otherwise be unemployed. Thirty new jobs have been created this way in Bern and Thun alone.
When you borrow a bicycle the first four hours are free, and after that you pay one Swiss Franc per hour. I kept mine for nine hours and paid only five Swiss Francs. (That's a mere three Euros in real money.)
Sound too good to be true? Well, it's a great service, but there are two slight catches:
First, you have to return the bike by 9.30 pm, so you can't use it to ride home from the opera or theater -- which, as I'm sure you are aware if you have read some of my other tips, is one of the most beautiful things you can do in a European city.
Second, the service is paid for in part by sponsors whose advertising signs are mounted on the bikes. Some of the smaller sponsors are quite harmless, like local pharmacies and newspapers, but the main sponsor is a notorious global fast-food corporation which is one of the main culprits in the world-wide obesity epidemic*, not to mention deforestation to raise cattle for their ground beef. So while I was having a great time riding around the city and doing my bit to preserve the environment, I was also unwittingly serving as an advertising agent for an infamous menace to public health. Can't say I was too happy about it.
*In case you are not aware of how serious the world-wide obesity epidemic has become, look up the September 2007 issue of Scientific American magazine. That was a special issue on Diet, Health and the Food Supply entitled "Feast and Famine -- The Global Paradox of Obesity and Malnutrition."
Second photo: A look inside the van at Casinoplatz, where the bicycles are stored overnight. By the way this lending station at Casinoplatz, at the north end of the Kirchenfeld Bridge, is only for the summer of 2008. Starting in May 2009 this station will be back in Zeughausgasse, where it used to be.
Third photo: I borrowed my bike here in the bicycle station "Milchgässli", right behind the main railroad station. This is also a place where people can park their own bikes, for a small fee, while they go away on the train someplace.
Fourth photo: Entrance and exit ramp in the bicycle station "Milchgässli". This is the one place in Bern where you can get a free bike all year round, not only from May to October.
Bicycle trips from (and to) Bern
These photos are all from the year 2008, but when I was a student in Bern in 1961/62 it was already a fine bicycle town.
I did a lot of cycling within the city, and also used Bern as a starting and ending point for some bicycle tours such as Bern to Freibourg and back, Bern-Thun-Spiez-Interlaken and back, and also a long trip to the Allgäu region of southern Germany.
The longest of these bicycle trips began in late March 1962, when I started out in a northerly direction from Bern, stopping among other places in Basel, Breisach, Kehl, Speyer, Oppenheim, Wiesbaden, Limburg, Siegen, Hagen, Lünen, Amersfoort, Amsterdam, den Haag, Chaam, Antwerpen, Brussels, Namur, Luxembourg, Strasbourg, Basel again and then back to Bern after about seven weeks.
Additional photos: More cyclists in Bern, 2008.
Funicular railway up the Gurten mountain on the outskirts of Bern, this is a fantastic visit and the ride is a good part of the experience.
The day ticket on local transport is valid here, bargain!
Cable Car Ride
The city centre of Bern is located high above the river and surrounding areas. These lower areas look very attractive and maybe very easy to walk down for some but not all.
The return journey would be much easier for most people using this rail car to get up the hill.
We did not have enough time during our day trip to venture down to the river, however i would think the ride would be most enjoyable especially on the return trip.
- Family Travel
Lauterbrunnen to Bern Rail - Day Trip
We travelled from Lauterbrunnen via Interlaken to Bern on a return day trip during September 2010.
A very easy trip using our Swiss Card and only requiring a change of trains at Interlaken, a short wait of 5 minutes for the Bern train.
The previous day we made enquiry at Lauterbrunnen rail ticket office re connecting trains and timetables and the ticket officer printed off a timetable for the next day which made the trip very simple.
Lauterbrunnen to Interlaken was a 20 minute trip and then onto Bern approximately another 60 minutes. Both train trips are very scenic with the train following the lake for approximately 20 minutes after we left Interlaken.
- Family Travel
Up and Down: Senkeltram
Anoter very special Transport in Berne is called "Senkeltram" wich translated means "sinking/rising tram". Actualy it is nothing else then a lift.... It gets you from the Münsterplatform down to the "Matte" quarter and more important back up.
The lift ist operated by some pensioners. The fare is CHF 1.-- per way
Most sights can be seen by foot, or if you don't want to walk Bicycles can be rented (some free of charge).
There is a good Tram and Bus network, Trams an Busses run every 5 to 14 Minutes. Watch out: the last trams and busses leave the main station at 00.00 (at last! up to the 14.12.02 it was 23.45)! Only in the nights Thursday/Friday, Friday/Saturday and Saturday/Sunday there are a few night-busses
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