The third day we were headed to Neuchâtel with a short stop in Berne. The company I work for has an office in Neuchatel and I was hoping to see the office and meet some people there as I have never had the chance to go there on business. A co-worker from Switzerland (Marc), had also offered to have us over for dinner. We got up early, had another great breakfast at the Hotel Eiger and grabbed the train to Interlaken Ost, where we grabbed a train to Berne. This was closest we had come to missing a train. We got on the train to Berne just a few seconds before the doors closed!
The ride to Berne was rather uneventful, and when we got there we had no idea where to begin. We really looked like tourists as we had to pull out the Frommer's Guide to Switzerland that John (a friend from work) had lent me. Luckily it had a walking map of Berne, but we also found a pretty good map of the city right at the exit of the train station. We decided that we would at least like to see Einstein's house while we were here as both of us had recently read a biography on him. We walked down the main street for about 20 minutes when all of a sudden the pull-handle on my luggage ripped off, and my suitcase flopped to a halt on the cobblestones. I had been carrying my laptop on top of my suitcase and it was fairly heavy. I guess the cheap luggage we bought from Canadian Tire was not up to the task. It took me about 5 minutes to bend it all back into shape and get it in a state where I could pull it once again. Sharon noticed that in a sick twist of irony this all happened to take place right in front of the Samsonite store.
Speaking of stores, Berne was quite a shopper's city. I found the stores located underneath the street accessible via storm-shelter-like doors quite fascinating. I have never seen anything like this before.
After the great suitcase debacle, we found Einstein's house relatively quickly and headed inside. The lady running this small museum was very friendly and seemed genuinely in awe of Einstein and his life. I found it very interesting and quite surreal to be in his apartment and to see his desk and furniture.
After the Einstein museum we headed to the end of the street to see the bear pits. There is really only one bear that we could see, and I heard someone say that soon he will be relocated to the wild. It definitely looked like a boring existence, so I guess that is a good idea. While at the bear pit we met a fellow from Toronto interestingly enough. He saw the Canadian flag on my backpack and we had a short conversation.
After seeing the bear, we moved across the street to the Brasserie zum Bärengraben where we had lunch. The gentleman there was running like a madman serving everyone, and was quite nice. The food was incredible. We had Feuilleté de Roquefort, which was basically a very flaky pastry with ultra-stinky cheese in the middle browned enough so the cheese was melted. I am not big on ultra-stinky cheese, but it was quite good. By this point it was getting quite late and we had planned on being on a train to Neuchâtel by then. There was free wireless at the Brasserie so I sent Marc a quick email and we rushed to try to catch the next train to Neuchâtel. We walked as fast as possible back through crowds of people and missed it by about two minutes. There happened to be another train leaving in about 10 minutes time, so we waited and took that one. Unfortunately I think we grabbed a commuter train as it was full of people and made many stops on the way and we did not get to Neuchâtel until about 5pm.
The next challenge was finding our hotel. We walked along fairly major roads for quite some time and eventually found the hotel, but by this time I was extremely hot and tired and I needed a change of clothes. I called Marc and he indicated that there really was nobody at the office, so he agreed to come and pick us up at the hotel and we would go for a quick glass of wine in downtown Neuchâtel and then go to his house for dinner!
We stopped at a small pub (or whatever you call them over here) and had a nice local rosé. We then headed to Marc's house for dinner (slightly late – oops!). Marc's wife Magalie had prepared a wonderful meal of salad, an awesome curry dish with rice and lentils, followed by cassis sherbet for dessert. The amazing food was accompanied by very good wine, and very good company. Christophe (another Swiss co-worker) was there as well, and we also got to meet Marc and Magalie's children (who were valiantly trying to understand our english). After dinner I got to try some Absinthe (courtesy of Christophe), as well as some of Marc's fabled Swiss Energy Drink (basically very strong alcohol made from plums).
We ended up staying quite late and Marc had to drive us back to our hotel at around 11:30. Back at the hotel we called home via Skype and talked to the kids and I had a late night uploading photos.
We are very thankful to Marc, Magalie, and their children for letting us intrude into their home (it was a school night after all!), and sharing their wonderful food and wine with us. We are also thankful to Christophe for being there and providing excellent company as always (and the Absinthe!).