Our trip to the capitalcity of Switzerland, Bern, started at 7:00 a.m.. After having breakfast halfasleep, we walked the 10 minutes to the railway station for the four hour journey ahead of us. However, the scenery along the way made up for strenuous day that awaited us. Since we began the day so early, most of us got hungry for lunch early too. At around 10 a.m., while on the train from Bellinzona toZurich, everyone opened their bagged lunch that we had collected from the kitchen at the villa before leaving Riva. We devoured the huge turkey sandwich, the bottle of water, fruit, and slabs of chocolate. Soon the sleepiness wore off and the noise level on the train increased as we became aware of our surroundings. We were viewing one of the most beautiful sights in the world: the Swiss countryside. As we passed through the picture-perfect villages, green valleys, glimmering blue lakes, rolling hills and snow-capped mountain, we became anxious of what else was Switzerland had to offer, as if the beauty of Ticino was not enough. What was also great about that train ride was the fact that on the longest part of our journey, our group had a car to ourselves; there was a sign on the final car that read “Reserved for Virginia Tech (Hall).” (This definitely pleased Professor Hall).
Once we got to Bern, we were greeted by Tania Humair and Anna Stoltz from Presence Swiss, our sponsoring organization. They escorted us to our hostel where we met Professor Moomaw. We had time to freshen up a bit from our journey and then headed to the U.S. Embassy.
As we walked the streets of Bern, it became evident why it is ranked as one of the cities with the best quality of life. While experiencing the well-organized and sophisticated public transit system, tranquil lifestyle, beautiful architecture, and natural scenery, I became convinced of Bern’s uniqueness. When we got to the Embassy and cleared security, we walked through multiple doors as we made our way to the Ambassador’s residence. One by one we introduced ourselves to the Ambassador and Mrs. Beyer while the furniture to accommodate the 23 of us was arranged. They had set up some coffee, juices, and small pastries for us, which we helped ourselves to while the Ambassador and Mrs. Beyer spoke to us about topics relevant to our course. Deputy Chief of Mission, Susan M. Elbow, also sat with us during the meeting. Apart from the talk about sustainable development in Switzerland and its comparison with the United States, we learned that the locals really make use of the river Aare. According to Mrs, Beyer, the lifestyle is so calm that the locals would swim before work or during their breaks and carry their clothes in a bag to protect them from the water.
After we had a Q&A session with the Ambassador, Mrs. Beyer, and Susan Elbow, Raelena Kniff presented them with a gift on behalf of the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech. We then posed for the group photograph and began our short walk to our next destination: the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. Our meeting with Stefan Ruchti, Section Director, International Environmental Issues, Peter Sagesser, an architect and urban designer, and two of their colleagues focused on Bern and the Westside development, designed by architect, Daniel Liebeskind. After our meeting and another Q&A session, I handed our gifts of appreciation to our presenters on behalf of University of Virginia and Virginia Tech. Peter then took us to Westside, which is described by Architect Liebeskind as “There’s nothing like this anywhere else in the world. This seamless coexistence of shopping centre, senior citizens’ residence, hotel, and leisure facilities in harmony with nature, the new Brünnen residential superstructure and buildings in the old part of Bern close by is unique. Westside is an urban marketplace and a stimulating entertainment destination with international flair.”
Indeed, Westside was an emerging development that has a lot of potential to grow. We spent some time in that area before we headed back to the city for dinner. The combination of walking around all day and our early lunch at 10:00 a.m. had us all more than ready for an early dinner. After a gorgeous tram ride up a hill, we reach Gurten Restaurant that had an amazing view of the city of Bern. For dinner, Professor Heike Mayer joined us and spoke to us for a few minutes about Bern as a capital city. She is the chairman of the Department of Economic Geography at the University of Bern and formerly was a professor at Virginia Tech. For dinner we had raclette, which is a traditional Swiss dish from the canton of Valais that consists of cut up vegetables (mainly potatoes) and melted cheese on top of it. After our delicious authentic meal, the day ended
with an exceptional gelato dessert and a ride down the funicular to our tram and then back to the youth hostel. Our trip to Bern, sponsored by Presence Swiss, gave us more insight into the sustainable practices in place and a preview of things to come.
Author: Mariam Rahmatullah, Undergraduate, Architecture, University of Virginia.