- Bern Station
So what’s worse than 12 hours of ass-cramps, neck aches and a swollen bladder while trapped in a flying tin can? 12 hours of ass-cramps, neck aches and a swollen bladder while trapped in a flying tin can with a gassy seat-mate. How does anyone generate that much gas anyway? I will not accept answers regarding low air pressure and gas expansion. It can’t be that simple.
Mommy and I arrived at Zurich airport past 8am and managed to limp past immigrations on our stiff legs to buy train tickets to Bern. Touchdown in Zurich and I’m already all set up and raring to start chomping my way across Europe, even if my queasy, jet-lagged stomach wasn’t quite ready just yet.
Poppy Seed Pretzel
Poppy seeds are banned in Singapore because of their morphine content, says wikipedia, which answers a lot of my frustrations with trying to find any here. False positive tests for opiates or something or the other. Creepy. Although that would probably help to explain why the Europeans are happier than Singaporeans. They tasted like sesame seeds to me.
Now let me tell you, feeling like you’ve woken up in the unholy hours of the morning (we were 6 hours behind Singapore time) and walking around half asleep when it is actually bright and sunny really does funky things to you. Like screwing up your body’s sewage system. One thing’s for certain in Switzerland, you’ll find toilets. But don’t end up peeing in your pants because you find out that you have to slot 2 CHF (approximately $S2.60) into a machine before the turnstile admits you into the themepar- oops, I mean toilet.
I mean all this in good humour of course. We did go to relieve ourselves – just that once.
A little more than an hour later we met up with Angela, mom’s friend from 22 years back, who also very kindly, unbelievably (because I’m a real klutz, something my mom was reminded of again during the entire duration of the trip and hence re-named me Tsunami. Mmph. ), agreed to accommodate both of us for the first 5 days of our trip in Switzerland before we were to meet my dad and bro who would arrive later. Boy, she didn’t know what hit her.
I’m only joking. I was a nice guest. Really. Cross my heart.
View from the car.
The first thing that struck me from the moment we zipped out of the city was holy schmoley look at all that green. Yes, I know Singapore’s always green, but it’s different. Tropical vegetation just screams In Your Face – it’s lush, vivid and smacks you in all directions and to the point that you start to feel the chlorophyll seeping into your skin. In Switzerland, it’s a subdued sort of green, lazy and serene, the kind that stretches on for miles and miles and steals your breath just when you think you’ve seen enough.
We stopped by a supermarket for groceries, which was when Angela asked what I’d like to eat for breakfast and ended up buying more than needed.
“What do you eat for breakfast?” she asked, holding up some fruit.
“Oh, anything. Really,” I shrugged, nodding to the fruit. “Fruit or bread or milk..”
She studied my face in silence. “We’ll just buy all that.”
That launched me into a state of panic because, as we strolled down the aisles, I realised that most of their products were Bio – organic (Read: Hole in the wallet. To us Singaporeans anyway.) The organic movement in Switzerland is…well…what movement? It’s already swept in and taken over. And what gorgeous looking capsicums, tomatoes, peaches, strawberries, cherries, apples, white asparagus, egg-plant, zucchini…! I was so mesmerized that I completely forgot to take pictures. Story of my life. I absolutely love the bakery that’s in every single grocery store. The variety of bread is just stunning. If you ever lose me in a supermarket, try the bakery. I’ll be there. Among the lobangs.
And this was lunch, right after we arrived in Kehrsatz where Angela’s family lives, dropped our luggage and washed the airplane grime off with a good shower. Angela meets up with a group of women for lunch every now and then, and so she brought us along for this one at a Japanese restaurant, one of the two restaurants they have in their quaint little town. I haven’t dined outside of a restaurant in a long time now because I’d be nothing short of a lunatic to do that in Singapore, but if the weather’s always breezy and crisp with temperatures remaining comfortably below 20C amidst the delicate tweeting of birds and swishswish rustling of acres and acres of wild grass …well shoot me if I decide to eat inside.
I obviously went a little overboard at the salad bar, but with good reason. I’ve never had anything so refreshing in my entire life. And what a wicked sesame dressing.
“Angela, your friends come from Asia and you bring them to a Japanese restaurant here in Switzerland?” one of Angela’s friends remarked, chortling.
I would have insisted that I really didn’t mind at all if I wasn’t completely preoccupied with my veggies. To anyone who would call this Rabbit Food, or Cow Chow, and push it away with a grimace before pounding your metaphorical fist on the table to demand for the wursts and brots and bier that you travelled almost half the world over for, you’ll be sorely missing out on the taste of Spring and the crunch of Summer. Eat your Cow Chow.
And miso soup, of course, which I realise I must have with every Japanese meal regardless of which continent I’m in or I’ll suffer withdrawal symptoms and shrivel up in one corner.
It’s been a while since I’ve experienced complete and utter despair from the mere action of having to look at a menu in a language that’s beyond my comprehension. I’m talking about misery of the highest level when I’m reduced to gnawing on my lip and picking a dish based on how much the groups of letters visually appeal to me.
I don’t know if it’s chicken, or pork, or beef, or veal, or venison, or pigeon or if it’s even meat I’m ordering or some exotic-as-hell barnacle that grows only on the side of ships with semi-metallic hauls (I made that up, sounds cool huh). What, I can’t help it if German’s all gibberish to me eh? Turns out that what I chose happened to be monkfish, according to wikipedia after Angela and Oscar googled it, or perhaps more widely known as the anglerfish, that hideous deep-water dwelling thing that actually tastes infinitely better than it looks, almost like cod, except much less smooth and slightly chewy and milky. I reiterate: Exotic-as-hell.
You can’t go wrong with salmon. Although I would like to add that anyone who manages to screw up salmon should stay far away from me. Don’t mess with my favourite fish. Err on the side of over-cooked and you’ll be fine, because undercooked salmon just isn’t worth the risk. This isn’t stopping me from my sashimi, just so you know.
Mommy’s salmon was nicely done, flaky and juicy on the inside, evenly caramelised and seared on the outside. You who can cook salmon like this shall be my best friend.
Coffee after lunch while reclining in dreamy post-meal daze just seems like the perfect way to end. But not just any coffee. It’s got to be home-brewed espresso made with coarsely ground coffee beans from Southern Italy. Angela wouldn’t have it any other way. We left after the others were done sipping their lattes and cappuccino, and Angela all but sped us back to her home on the side of a hill and pulled out a tiny coffee brewer, a coffee bean grinder and a fresh bag of Italian biscotti before I even registered I was getting in the way of things with my attempts to help make coffee without one of those press-y press-y button coffee machines.
See those are easy: Put cup in place, and press button.
This, however, was none of that instant sludge that trickles out of stainless steel nozzles while you turn on the telly and collapse in a heap on the couch for an hour before realising that your espresso’s done and cold by then and you go to throw it out.
I stood to the side as I watched Angela grind the coffee beans in the grinder before packing the fragrant gritty powder into a tiny canister, fill the small metal jug with water, assemble the mini coffee brewer and set it atop her induction stove. Yes, induction stove. You have no idea how envious I was.
The heady perfume of the freshly brewed coffee was nothing like I’d ever smelled. It was so incredibly thick and hung in the air like a dense blanket of smoky roast. This was potent stuff, in that it tasted and felt like the very essence of coffee, the ideal base for every other latte, cuppucino, macchiato there can be. It was such a rich dark brown that it was almost jet black, a solid, ominous colour against the soft white cup. I think I can get used to coffee after lunch. Especially if it comes with these:
There are a thousand and one different types of Italian biscotti, and these were called motellini, if I recalled the name on the pack right, although googling it didn’t yield anything like it to my dismay. These were exceptionally crumbly and light, speckled with bits of black which I initially thought to be vanilla but was told by Angela that they were part of a mixture of whole wheat flours that went into making these amazingly flavourful biscuits. I couldn’t stop myself from having seconds, and thirds (Angela almost insisted I take the entire pack, and I almost obliged except that I couldn’t…couldn’t possibly…mustn’t…), mostly because their sugar-studded tops and oat-y taste complimented the bitter bite of espresso.
Oh yes I could do this every day.
I loved these, I really did. I dream of these very often. I would wish for a box of these flown right to my doorstep and I would be a very happy girl. Sigh.
After tea (how I love irony), we were shown around Angela’s garden because I happened to make a remark about how difficult it is to grow herbs in Singapore’s climate. I will concede though – a little, a very teensy itty bitty bit – that perhaps the reason my herbs don’t flourish is because they are under my care – or lack thereof. The tropical sun kills them. And I sometimes forget I have herbs to move out of the sun because I’m inside, want to stay inside, thankfully away from the outside and want no reason to go outside.
So they die.
We were joined by their resident feline, Nero (Italian for black), while we were in the garden, who casually slunk his way down the stone steps to cosy up around our legs.
View from the garden.
There was an almost reverent silence where we were. Just rolling hills as far as the eye can see, sprawling fields and a powder blue sky. It’s impossible, but time slows down, ebbs away as the soft wind steals your breath and leaves you silent to inner turmoil, wistful and pensive.
We left for Bern after, zipping our way to the university which Oscar, Angela’s husband, teaches at before leaving the car there to explore Bern on foot. And there is nothing that sets the streets of Switzerland apart from those in Singapore like graffiti. It’s beautiful, in a way. Chaotic and completely spontaneous, like that little mad person in all of us.
It felt like a movie, walking down the streets of Bern, with too many things to see and not enough time. Shops close at 6pm and even with haste in our steps, there wasn’t any way that we would be able to see all the shopping promenades. The beautiful architecture is largely medieval, wide streets lined with rigid rows of buildings with dashes of colour from baskets of flowers outside window sills, grey cobblestone paths and the occasional fountain.
An open market.
My first reaction to a crepe stall in an open market that we came across was simple and obvious – I wanted, no needed, the most sinful of them all. Nutella and Banana. Yes I had lunch not too long ago, but I’ll probably never return to this stall again, and that’s the thing about travelling.
Less thinking, more eating.
Never ever make the mistake of thinking you should hold yourself back just because you think that there may be something else better, or cheaper that you might chance across later on because, honey, you won’t. Nothing would even come close to the 8CHF for 500g of cherries you didn’t buy, or the 1kg block of parmigiano-reggiano cheese you thought would be too heavy to lug around (ARGH!) or the aged 12 year-old balsamic vinegar that was so thick and creamy and sweet that you thought was too expensive (Too expensive? Too expensive?! What was I thinking. Oh that’s right, I wasn’t thinking at all) but turned out to be the cheapest sold in Florence…
Be smart and just eat. And buy.
Nutella and banana crepe.
It started drizzling a little as we looked about the Parliament building, the sky drawing in more clouds as the Swiss started pulling out their umbrellas and darting under buildings for cover, which was an amusing sight to mommy and I because Singaporeans react the exact opposite. No one scrambles away from a drizzle, but everyone runs for the hills the moment the sun appears. I know I do.
Since the 16th century, Bern has had a bear pit (Bärengraben) situated next to the Aare River, a rather popular tourist attraction, especially since the bear is a symbol of Bern and is on Bern’s coat of arms. I happened to be much more enamoured with the couple of bear cubs that were frolicking about on the grass.
Coat of Arms. Bear Pit.
Aare river. Bern.
When the drizzle started turning into fat drops, Oscar drove up in the car and whisked us away back to Kehrsatz for dinner which Angela assured was ‘Real Italian Pizza’. How could I refuse? Second meal in Switzerland: Pizza.
Ristorante Il Brunello.
Real Italian Pizza.
I have only one standard when it comes to eating pizza. Wood-fired. Oven-baked pizzas just aren’t the same. I was absolutely thrilled the moment I saw the opened pizza counter with a gorgeous smoldering fire deep within the brick hearth behind the Real Italian Man who was tossing pizzas like I could only dream of doing. One after the other, those flat doughs were clocking such incredible air-time that I feel bummed not being able to share exactly how because I can’t upload the video that I took (that I suspect made Real Italian Man toss a few more than usual, proudly, when he saw that he was being filmed by the Singaporean senorita).
Angela's and Mommy's Pizzas.
Mine all mine.
Thin crust? Check. Beautiful char marks? Check. Anchovies, salami, onions, capers? Check. Now pass me that jug of water before my taste buds wither and die. The pizza was terrific but clearly I wasn’t thinking much once again when I was ordering because if 3/4 of the ingredients are preserved, why was I still surprised that my 12-inch pizza brought a whole new meaning to the word Salty?
Also, whenever the stereotype that Asian people have small appetites pops up, you might want to be less eager to passionately refute that claim because this 12-inch pizza (approximately 34cm in diameter) is considered a portion for one person. I got completely totaled by the 7th slice, and by that I mean unable-to-slouch-for-fear-of-my-turgid-stomach-imploding-and-tearing-up-my-guts. My Subway footlong days were over, I knew with much certainty then.
Oscar thought a walk after dinner was in order, seeing as how mommy and I were about to dangerously slip into food coma, and so we went off to stroll the Kehrsatz countryside, where I was astounded, once again, by the sprawling pastures and the sudden – but pleasantly so – presence of wild flowers and lone, blood-red poppies swaying in a sea of green as the setting sun bathed everything in a lazy blue hue.
If there is one thing I’ll always think of when anyone mentions Switzerland, it isn’t the chocolate (gasp) – it’s the smell and sounds of the rich countryside. It’s the smell of damp hay, of crisp, untamed breezes, the ever present herds of livestock, musky but not too unpleasant. Yet what has been deeply entrenched in me is The Quiet. The gentle, coaxing lilt of the wind and the muted clangclangclanging of cow-bells in the distance…