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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Bern & Luzern

The Bern bear city symbol on a ginger cake
I've been completely pathetic putting up the photos of what-we-ate-in-Europe, and I'm annoyed with myself. I'm not going to abandon this project halfway (or 1/4 way in because there's about another 6 weeks to go!) so I'm resuming it. Even if I only post photos without text, at least I'm finishing something I started!
After Payerne in western-French-speaking Switzerland we stopped for lunch in Bern, only 30 minutes away. Even though it's so close, suddenly everything was in German! In Payerne German was seen as something very foreign, and English even more so, but a few miles down the road it was a different story. Switzerland is fascinating; I love the place.

We were let loose for an hour or so to look around and grab something to eat. I soon discovered in the local market that I was able to communicate in French; in this area where the linguistic borders are so close, most people are at least bi-lingual. And as Bern is the Swiss capital, all the official languages are spoken and understood, even if the signs are in German. I didn't have as much success communicating in Italian, though!
I really liked Bern - it feels more like a small bustling market town than a national capital, and I guess that's because of the unique nature of the Swiss government, with 7 premiers of the cantons sharing the leadership position, and the function of the annual president mainly limited to greeting people at airports.
Miniature vegetables were all over the marketplaces of Europe this time of year. We couldn't figure out the allure of the miniature vegetable. I suspected they were used as autumn table decorations, but does anybody have a more detailed explanation?

The people of Bern have a violent history of eating small babies!

We spent too long wandering around the market and decided to get things to eat on the bus. There were about 10 cheese stalls, so we choose one at random and bought some vacherin and some truffle infused brie. Hoooeyy! Truffle infused brie! My friend who shared this with me is still sending messages raving about it, from her new home in the UK!
You just can't buy brie this ripe in Australia. Look at it - it's oozing! In the centre was another layer of cheese mixed with chopped truffles. This stuff nearly sent us falling to the floor in ecstasy...not a safe thing when driving on windy Swiss roads!

I bought a few day-old crusty rolls and we actually managed to get through that entire hunk of cheese, plus the vacherin. We also bought some local green apples to cut through the richness, and that simple lunch on the bus was a definite food highlight of the whole trip.

We had 2 nights in Luzern, compared to the one hour in Bern, but there are hardly any foodie photos we took. The weather turned rainy and cool for the first time in the trip there, and we were feeling a bit tired, so it was a quiet few days. I was billeted on my own with a student, in a typical student-hovel apartment. I lugged by bags on 3 local buses, hoiked them up 6 flights of stairs in the rain, was shown to my mattress on the floor and was told there wasn't any food in the house for dinner; would I like packet soup or a bowl of cereal? At 4am the housemate came home, newly broken up with his girlfriend, rolling drunk and surrounded by girls and decided to play German heavy-metal and cook spaghetti!! He didn't know there was a visiting Australian in the next room who had to get up in 3 hours to sing at church. Many people might have cried at this stage - I started to laugh and knew I'd look back on this with a smile. The next night I came home to find a pot-smoking party going on around my bed! Fabulous. But actually I had a great time staying with the students, experiencing real Swiss life, and learning a lot about Swiss culture and politics. I didn't have to worry about keeping the bathroom fanatically clean, either! Plus I got to try a variety of flavoured yoghurts, which was all they had in the fridge. Yoghurt in Switzerland isn't considered solely a health food, like here, so you can get choc chip cookie dough yoghurt, chestnut puree yoghurt, butterscotch etc.etc. Yum!

After our evening concert we were taken out for dinner to a Swiss restaurant. Above is the winner of the biggest-sausage-on-tour competition. I shared the fondue with Belinda but looking at that sausage and crispy roesti, I wish I'd chosen that instead.

Here's our Fondue For Two. It was exciting for the first 5 minutes in that "I'm really in Switzerland and eating cheese fondue" kind of way, and then it lost its spark. The only thing we had to dip in it was soft brown bread. Romance aside, a meal of bread and a bloody great pot of melted cheese is actually a bit dull! When I've had fondue here, we've had a variety of vegetables to dip in alongside the bread, which livens up the event. If our bread was toasted it would have at least provided a textural contrast, but the soft bread and soft cheese were a bit too similar. After about 10 minutes Belinda said "This isn't exciting any more".
I would never say to anybody not to have fondue in Switzerland; it's something you definitely have to do, but once is probably enough (I've done it twice now, and am happy to expand into the repertoire of enormous sausages and potato pancakes now!)

Here's a very early morning photo of gorgeous Luzern; lake, Totentanz bridge, tower, mountains surrounding the whole place... Hence the constant daily rain!!

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