Sunday, February 4, 2007


It's always nice to be pleasantly surprised when visiting a new place. I hadn't thought of visiting Bern before, but it's one of my brother's favorite towns in Switzerland, the center is a UNESCO world heritage site and it's a mere three hours away. One of the myths of living abroad is that the numerous daily thrills are enough to sustain even the most nostalgic of souls. But when my friend Jesse and I were hiking last weekend, we were desperate for three things that Lugano lacks: English films, spicy food and a Starbucks. Bern it is.

For some reason, Bern shows all films in their original language, which is great when living in a German and Italian dubbed world. Bern has numerous cinemas, and we were faced with a small quandary when glancing at the film list: which one! An exciting predicament for three girls desperate for a bit of brainless first-language fun. So we decide on Babel; ingenious, considering three-quarters of the film is in Arabic, Japanese and Spanish. Jesse's high school French was enough to keep us in the loop of what was happening (in French and German subtitles), and perhaps it wasn't the best choice for a feel-good film, but worth it all the same.

I suppose Starbucks is the lesser of the two evils of the McDonalds/Starbucks globalization curse; at least it plays better music. I just paid 5.40CHF or about $4.30 for a chai latte, but again, worth it, as my girlfriends are writing postcards and I'm playing on Sven in a smoke-free atmosphere. (Switzerland is very behind the times and still allows smoking indoors, at least for another couple of months.) Sundays are lazy in Switzerland, similar to Slovenia, Portugal, Italy, and pretty much everywhere other than the UK: the only places to eat tend to be dodgy pizzerias, smoky cafes and Starbucks. So here we are.

It's nice to get away, even if it is for 30 hours. Life at a boarding school is a different life to living in a city, with a social circle spanning numerous occupations, countries and ages. Your friends are your colleagues, and much like in a small town, everyone knows your business before you do. That's been the biggest adjustment of the past five months, learning to find my own groove in this claustrophobic existence. And getting away is part of that sanity that I am desperate to maintain.

Bern is lovely; its buildings are Swiss-German crossed with Central European subtle grandeur and red rooftops. Trams snake through the city, past trendy boutiques and smoky cafes and funky restaurants. It's flat, walkable, comfortable, and a charming place to spend some time. And it's got bears. Of course. We walked past a place called Boomerang's with "Authentic Australian Czech Specialties." (Kangaroo goulash?) We found a great little Thai place and successfully deciphered the menus for delicious spicy food. The hotel was cheap and clean. And nearly everyone we met was nice to us – another bonus, when living in a snobbish lakeside resort town.

Weirdest thing: crowning a fountain in one of the main squares, a child-eating ogre. Sinister discipline!
On days like today, classes tomorrow are a half a world away. I'm leaving them there for awhile.
(Oh yeah, and it's Super Bowl Sunday. Just ain't the same without the commercials, though the Americanas here are hosting not one but two parties, beginning at 11pm...!)

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