We weren't sure what to expect from Tara's dad's longtime friend, Bettina, but we were pleasantly surprised with the friendly, spunky, and incredibly generous woman who came to meet us at Bern's riverside campsite.
Almost immediately after we found each other, Bettina suggested we go for a float in the river Aare. With a sweaty bike ride yesterday and a shower-less night of free-camping following it, we heartily agreed to her plan. For me, floating down a river conjures up images of oversized inner-tubes, beer coolers and lazy summer afternoons. This was nothing of the sort. Mountain rivers move much faster than the rivers at home.
After changing into suitable clothes we regrouped in the park and Bettina gave us a crash course on staying afloat in the rough currents. Mainly you just had to be a good swimmer but there was one curious detail: if you were suddenly sucked underwater you shouldn't panic as this is normal and, apparently, wouldn't last long. The method of exiting the river sounded pretty exciting too; there were various railings/staircases along the riverbed and when you were ready to stop you had to snag one with your hand and hold on for dear life until you could get a firm footing to climb out.
Our ride started with a few slow and tentative steps before we all plunged headlong into the icy river. We were immediately swept away into the brilliantly blue water and its very powerful current. As we rushed along Bettina pointed out the Bernese sites, from a glimpse of the old town, a bridge where people jump into the river, to an escapee pelican from the riverside public zoo.
Unfortunately, we'd started very near to the end of the 'floatable' section of the river and our ride was over in about ten minutes. As we were hauling ourselves out Bettina explained that you can float all the way from Thun! Tara and I both wanted to go again but Bettina had other fun things planned so we walked back to camp, changed clothes and regrouped by our bikes.
After making a quick game plan Bettina took the lead, hopping on her bike and tearing down the riverside cycle path while we gave pursuit on our almost fully loaded bikes. Eventually to get where we were headed, we needed to cross to the other side of the river but instead of taking a bridge, Bettina suggested we take a ferry. I was confused at first when she stopped and pushed a seemingly random button in bushes. Then we heard a bell on the other side of the river and a few moments later an older man appeared and stepped into his "ferry" to fetch us.
With the help of a long cable preventing his aluminum boat from flying down the river he cut across quickly, arriving on the other side in just a few seconds. Then we wheeled our bikes down the steps on to the ferry and he repeated the same bizarre process to bring us to the other side.
On the other bank of the Aare, we set off in the direction of the Paul Klee museum. The building itself turned out to be an awesome specimen of modern architecture and to be honest, I had much easier time appreciating it than I did Paul Klee's art.
The exhibit highlighted Klee's work which was particularly influenced by "the Orient", along with a variety of other Middle Eastern and North African art. More than Klee's abstract paintings, we enjoyed the variety of early photographs showing the pyramids at Giza, exquisitely detailed paintings of the streets of Jerusalem, and hand-woven rugs from Turkey.
Museum-going can be tiring work for some reason and all three of us were dragging our feet as we left. The foot-dragging didn't last long though as Bettina was soon on her bike and in the lead again. We zipped around the city to the "Old Town" where we stopped to admire the view before continuing over cobblestone streets to some of Bettina's favorite specialty shops.
First up was an Italian grocer where she purchased some olive oil and fresh olives. Following that, a cheese shop where she had the cheesemonger cut thick slices from massive wheels of various hard and medium aged cheeses. Finally, we visited an upscale chocolate shop for treats and a Migros grocery store for a bag of potatoes.
Shopping complete, we headed back to Bettina's apartment. When we arrived we chatted over glasses of sparkling apple juice on her balcony, quite civilized! She set out little dishes of olives and capers and for the first time in my entire life, I actually enjoyed an olive!
After our appetizers, Bettina got to work in the kitchen, refusing all help and ushering us to the bathroom with some clean towels. In her spotless bathroom we each took long, piping hot showers, then got dressed in our dirty clothes again and worked on journals until dinner was ready.
Dinner was a simple, traditionally Swiss meal of boiled potatoes served with a variety of cheeses and a large salad. Everything was delicious! The fancy cheeses were a welcome change from our normal grocery store gouda. My favorite was the Gruyere; I don't know how I lived with cheddar for so long! After a relaxing dinner, we cleared the table for a dessert of melon, cookies and chocolate. Thank you Bettina!
Feeling wonderfully full, we biked home in the darkness, guided first by Bettina to the river path which led to our campground. After many thanks and hugs we said goodbye. We rode the rest of the way home in almost complete darkness, marveling at the novelty of being out and about after nightfall. There's a whole world out there after the sun sets, which until tonight we'd mostly forgotten about!