Almost like home

Even when it’s raining, or perhaps because of it, Switzerland looks like a perfect, sparkling country. Our bus drove under rainbows as we rolled into Bern.

Andy and Pascal collected us from the station and brought us to the apartment they so recently moved back into. After a deliciously simple lunch of bread and cheese, Pascal led us on a walking tour of Bern. We admired the mascots of the city, a family of bears, then the cathedral, the river view, the figurine-topped fountains (that you can drink from!), and Bern’s own astronomy tower.

Not hard to believe it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The man who founded the town named it after the first animal he saw. There have been bears on display in Bern ever since

Pascal insisted on treating us to dinner; he wanted us to try a real Swiss dish, rosti, which are like hash browns on steroids. My vegetarian rosti had celery and squash diced into the grated potatoes, smothered in cheese and fried in butter, then topped with a fried egg. It was a farmer’s meal in a very non-farm-like setting.

After a breakfast of, wait, cheese and bread, the following morning, we set out for Lausanne, where Pascal’s friend Roberto lives. They were having a pre-August 1 barbeque, August 1 being the Independence Day of Switzerland. We stopped short of Lausanne for the breath-taking views of wine grapes growing along Lake Leman (Lake Geneva), and then again in the city of Lausanne to stroll by the harbor.

Rob and a couple friends were smoking hand-rolled cigarettes on the patio when we arrived. His American girlfriend, Anna, was visiting, and the barbeque was at his parents’ place. More old friends arrived, and the conversation switched from French to Swiss German to English with amazing ease, enviable ease.

When the clock struck midnight, I wished the remaining Swiss a happy August 1. It was met with laughter and mock celebration. Rob tried to sing the national anthem but managed only to hum the tune.

Discussing it on the drive back the next morning, Pascal explained that it isn’t very popular to be patriotic; it shows radical nationalism bordering on racism. We did see Swiss flags hung from some balconies, but nearly to the extent you would see the ol’ Stars and Stripes on July 4.

So what does happen on August 1?

Otherwise, August 1 festivities are about what you’d expect from a summertime national holiday. We would be attending another barbeque that evening and watching fireworks that night, but first the gang got back together to spend the afternoon by the Bern River.

The water was murky sea-foam green and quite chilly at 18 degrees C. We left our towels on a grassy lawn that had a river-water pool (Pascal’s parents had learned to swim there!), then walked five minutes upstream and jumped in. The cold current carried us quickly; we whooped and hollered to keep warm. In just a couple minutes we were clinging to the red ladder to climb out; then we went, teeth chattering, back to our towels to thaw out before the next dip.

The next day was spent sorting through our boxes from Taiwan until Pascal’s friend Barbara and her boyfriend Leo arrived for dinner. Leo is a chef, so he was put in charge of the meal (simple enough, gourmet cheese toast). We played two rounds of the train game (sort of like Risk), which took us through several bottles of wine and late into the night.

Our train to Bologna was the following afternoon. We managed to squeeze all four of us and most of Colin’s and my possessions into Pascal’s two-door. They helped us all the way onto the train and even gave us a few bars of Swiss chocolate for the road, er, tracks.

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