Where the bears hide ...

It is hard to believe Bern is the capital city of Switzerland. Looking down across its higgledly-piggledgy rooftops from the top of the Munster, the city that is divided by the River Aar quickly gives way to lush fields with a backdrop of snowy peaks on a clear day. Wandering through its UNESCO-protected cobbled streets, you realise the layout and architecture have barely changed since medieval times.

The centrepiece of the old town is a rather picturesque clock tower: the Zytglogge. It is a squat tower with a design on one side depicting the phases of the moon and the elevation of the sun above the horizon. Bern is intimately connected with bears. Images of the impressive creatures adorn walls, statues and of course the city flag. There is also a bear park featuring three very cute bears. I felt rather sorry for them as they didn't have a lot of space, but they appeared playful and happy. One was rolling around on the hillside and then accidentally tumbled down towards the river, dusted itself off and went for a paddle. He must have been young and looked just like a Steiff teddy.

The houses of parliament cast an impressive spectacle above the river and the city features several high and elegant bridges. The whole look of Bern reminded me of the classic Disney village that nestles beneath the palace. We stayed at the Innere Enge, a jazz-themed hotel above the city. Its expansive windows boasted an unbeatable panorama across Bern, and yet set in extensive parkland, the hotel felt completely removed from the city. It had its own Jazz Room, where jazz and blues concerts take place regularly throughout the year.

A real treat was going to watch a concert by Louisiana blues star Bobby Rush as part of the International Jazz Festival Bern. He was 78 but was jumping about the stage like a young man and wearing a very glam diamante studded jacket. He cracked a lot of jokes, and much of his music was improvised meaning the whole set came to life despite the intimacy of the concert room. It was blues as I have never seen it done before. He told a rather moving story too, about how as a young man he was commissioned to play a concert for a group of white men. He was made to stand behind a curtain, because although they loved his music, they couldn't bear the colour of his skin. Society is at times a ghastly place.

Tim and I awoke on Sunday to more sunshine and positively unseasonal temperatures - the whole weekend was deliciously warm. We played a round of mini golf on the hotel's course, which was really rather testing. It tested my patience at least when, for the sixth time, I completely missed a shot. During our game, a cute little cat trotted right into the middle of one of the holes and began to bask in the sunshine! We were served by a hopeless waiter during lunch at the Old Tram Station restaurant beside the river, but the sunshine and brisk summer breeze made up for it. After a wander down the river and gentle potter back through the old town we made our way to the station - feeling satisfied that we had experienced the character of Bern.

The beauty beyond ...


And once more to the Tyrol ...

Innsbruck's main station does little to promote the beauty of the scenery that lies beyond - but it reveals secret glimpses of the Nordkette, that dramatic mountain range that juts up behind the city that I came to love so much. Fulpmes, just a short bus ride away and in the heart of the Stubai valley, was our destination last week. Having spent the previous weeks listening to composer Philip Glass's Tirol Symphony (which accompanies the CineTirol adverts and takes you to mountain peaks, down gushing waterfalls and soaring like an eagle above the incomparable expanse of peaks in the Tyrol) our appetites were already whetted for the week ahead.

Telfie the cat, our charge for the week, greeted us at the flat and we enjoyed his purring, games and waking to his miaouws all week. We sipped hot chocolate and rum while sledging at the Serles Bahn, and gorged on hideously huge cheese cake during a day's skiing at the same resort. The snow was soft and fluffy - perfect for a nervy skier like me. We whizzed down the helter skelter-esque sledge run at the Elfer lift, which affords breathtaking views down the valley whilst winding steeply and perfectly into the valley below. Tim persevered with my ski lessons, while I bumbled clumsily along trying to master parallel turns and pole plants.

We ventured to the stunning Stubai glacier one day - a long and stuffy bus journey, with a worthwhile expanse of glacier skiing at the end. Unfortunately, crowds abounded, which leads me to say how much I hate skiing culture. I enjoy the peace and quiet of the mountains. I love feeling at one with nature and on top of the world. While the latter may be accomplished skiing, you are unfortunately anything but alone. Crowds, a disgusting number of ghastly smokers (how can these morons smoke when they are exercising and in the fresh air and ruin the day for everyone else?) and loud music just destroy the enchantment of the mountains. I'm "secretly" dying for summer hiking to arrive.

That said, the ski resorts were beautiful. Schlick 2000 was our resort of choice. You ski below the Kalkkogel, peaks which rise like jagged, uneven battlements from the snowy carpet below. The main piste is a lusciously gentle blue - ah, heaven. I built up confidence on it, until on the last day an out-of-control child (they don't look where they're going) crashed into me and almost sent me whizzing down the mountain. One tip is never to night sledge at Schlick - it's expensive, on a dangerous ski piste and not properly prepared so you spend more time sinking in the snow and having to walk than sledging.

Instead, go to the Elfer lift - one word: stunning. It is lamp lit, above the twinkling lights of the valley and all around you can see opaque lumps of mountains with an eerie sheen of snow. On the way down is a snug little hut serving hot chocolate and rum - with a rather obnoxious smoking barman - but the less said about him the better. We were ripped off with an average meal and utterly dreadful service at the Restaurant zum Dorfwirt in Neustift. The following evening at the always charafterful Piano Bar in Innsbruck made up for it though. We spent just one day in Innsbruck. I remembered the things that irritated me (the staring and badly-mannered locals, smokers, poor shops) but also the things I loved like the brilliant cafes and constant views to the mountains. It was a wonderful, active week in the fresh air but actually living in the Tyrol is a chapter I am glad to have closed.
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