Yesterday Mark and I took the train to visit the Swiss capital, Bern. Across the street from the train station was the post office plus the special postal shop, where we stepped in to get some older editions of Swiss stamps. It costs 1.80 ChF to mail a letter or postcard and I bought stamps in small denominations so that the recipients can see as many examples of Swiss philately as possible (of course that only gives me less room to write on–I must write even smaller then).

Old Bern is built on a tongue of land wrapped by the Aare River, and the streets are very narrow and cobblestoned. No cars are permitted so we could walk up and down the middle of the streets. Old Bern is arcaded yet we saw more of the city by walking down the middle of the road (otherwise we would have been sheltered by low arcades the whole time). No rain in Bern so we spent the whole time outside. We walked to the rose garden and saw beautiful flowerbeds as well as some fiendishly palatial residences. The walk to the rose garden took us up a very steep hill and then we passed the headquarters of the Swiss postal system. Of course I had to go in and I spoke to a clerk who gave Mark and me Swiss postal pens. (I am using my Postverk Føroya pen from the Faroe Island post office to write my postcards.)

I was hoping to see some embassies yet they were in a different part of town. Although small, old Bern is big enough to see all of it in a day and Mark and I ventured outside to the rose garden and to see some nice houses, yet the embassies were in another part of the city.

Only once on the train, bus or trams has anyone asked to see our tickets. It cost 90 ChF to travel from Zürich to Bern and we could have taken the trip for free on our return. A ticket taker did go through as we departed the station in Zürich, yet no one cam by as we left Bern.

I have so many books I wonder how I will take everything home. This always happens to me. I did bring an empty suitcase with me (my prize for winning the Peel Literacy Guild Spelling Bee) and when I pack tonight I will try to fit everything in there. Tomorrow morning Mark and I leave for Laax in Graubünden canton.

We ate out in Schlieren, a suburb of Zürich, and had a delicious meal of seafood pizza, salad, spinach tortellini, Swiss beer and Graubünden mineral water for 55 ChF. (No need to mortgage my house then.) There is only one kind of beer brewed here and it is served in enormous bottles; needless to say Mark and I always split one.

Swiss licence plates are six numbers preceded by the two-letter abbreviation for the canton. Thus in Zürich all plates look like ZH 123456. The Swiss crest (white cross in a red crest) flanks the licence plate on the left and the canton crest is on the right. I have seen two cars from Liechtenstein, which have black plates with gold lettering/numbering. The plates here begin with FL (for “Fürstentum Liechtenstein”) plus four or five numbers. I hope to visit Liechtenstein after my Romansch course. My plans for after my course are up in the air: maybe I will go to Austria and Italy as well, albeit for a day each.

I am fascinated with borders and political geographical trivia and I hope to go to Campione d’Italia, an enclave of Italy within Switzerland. It is a full part of Italy yet only accessible to Italians by land by crossing into Swiss territory. If I have one day to go to Italy, however, I would like to see if I can fit in a trip to Udine, the centre of Friuli where they speak another language in the Romansch family, Friulian.

Now I will write a message to my pen-pal from 25 years ago. Her name is Bettina Keutschegger and she lived in Triesenberg, Liechtenstein, and after two decades of being out of touch I found her on the Net. Maybe I will get to meet her for the first time. She now lives in Switzerland just south of Bern.

More to come.

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