Buying the perfect souvenir is simple – unless it seemingly disappears.
Halfway through my five-day stay in Switzerland, I realize I have to buy a souvenir (Well, something other than a sports magazine – my “souvenir” from my two-day stay in Brussels three months prior). I’ve fallen in love with the Confoederatio Helvetica. Basel – my first stop – is perfect: frequent and free public transportation (thanks to the mobility card visitors are given in the city’s accomodation), lovely architecture, a plethora of museums, great cheese at the market and sports. My last sight of Basel is a snowboarding competition in the city center.
A comfortable two-hour train ride to Bern drops me off on a platform that could be nicknamed “Snowboarder City". But the Swiss capital is not to be a chilly place. Right after my arrival, groovy and colorful street performers entertain an audience in the city’s commercial district. Not far from the hippie-like group, the Bundesplatz, is also in the fun. Bargain hunters have gathered at the market to look at clothes, baskets and Swiss army knifes. Not exactly what I’m looking for.
If all else fails, head in the direction of the tourists. Bern is a city associated with the bear (the city is supposedly named after it), so many visitors leave time for the bear pit on their itinerary. It is another tourist haven where the sound of spoken English jumps out. There’s nothing really worthwhile about the place, you watch bears go in circles.
Next to the pit, though, is a tourist office sporting a shop full of Swiss items: cowbells, stuffed Saint Bernards, Swiss chocolate, Switzerland T-shirts, etc. A blue keychain for the neck stands out. Blue is my favorite color, a keychain isn’t bulky. At first, the keychain doesn’t seem overtly Swiss (weird considering I have an urge to buy a Swiss souvenir), but it looks lovely. It repeatedly features a flower with white hairs and yellow heads. The flower might be the national flower, but I don’t know its name. I tell myself to return to the shop before departing Bern.
Shopping is not on the top of my itinerary in Bern. A trip to the Bundehaus, the Swiss Parliament Building, is. The building is open to free tours from Monday to Friday in French, German and English. I go to the Bundehaus early that Monday (my last day in Switzerland) to find out when the English tour starts. I can plan my day around the tour, starts at 2:00 p.m. After the 45-minute tour of the Bundehaus, my itinerary is empty. Next, souvenir shopping.
Doubt creeps into my mind, nothing to do with shopping, but it has to do with my train ticket. I’m confident I leave at 5:23 p.m. Something tells me though, that I could be departing at 15:23. I return to my hostel (I had already checked out), but my backpack is still behind the front desk. I check my train ticket, I’m leaving Bern at 17:23. Good, I have enough time for souvenir shopping.
Armed with a map I was given at the train station, returning to the tourist office near the bear pit is easy. I just need to get on the Nydeggbrücke (a bridge near the Rathausgasse). Immediately after crossing the bridge and looking down to my right, I’d be at the tourist office.
Instead, I get on the Kornhausbrücke, which is longer than the Nydeggbrücke. It doesn’t hit me that I’m on the wrong bridge until I cross it – nothing touristy in sight – a bunch of office buildings.
I’m not lost, but the city center is a maze and if you can’t locate the street signs (which lie against buildings), the city takes you on a nice ride. Eventually, I find the right street and cross the Nydeggbrücke, reaching the tourist office well before the sun sets.
When I get to the gift shop, I try to open the door, but it stays shut. It’s 4:01 p.m. The gift shop closes at 4:00 p.m. on Monday. I wonder why Swiss shops close so early. Leaving the tourist office, I express my shock at the early closing times to a fifty-something woman of Asian descent who’s also leaving the vicinity. She agrees and adds, “In Manila, the shops don’t close until ten.”
Just across the street from the tourist office is a stand that may sell souvenirs. My hopes rise when I see a lot of cowbells at the stand, but no keychain.
There are numerous shops in the city center where Swiss souvenirs can be found. Two days prior, I found a shop on Kramgasse selling such items as cowbells, pens and mugs. I promised the clerk that I’d return to buy a souvenir. That clerk isn’t present, but I find the 19-franc cowbell I want. Still no keychain. At this point, I have less than an hour before leaving the Swiss capital.
Fortunately, a large train station is more than a place to arrive and depart from. Bern’s train station has four floors. On the top floor, there's a shop from the same chain where I found the perfect souvenir. The good news is there’s a Swiss keychain – red with numerous white crosses from the Swiss flag.
What goes up, must come down. I head down to ground floor where there are numerous food stands. Food’s not on my mind, though. I see several little shops selling a lot of the items I’ve come to expect in Switzerland. One shop has – yes – a blue keychain perfectly suited for the neck that repeatedly features a flower with white hairs and yellow heads.
I have a question as I look at the keychain. Taking advantage of the opportunity to speak French, I launch into the ever-so-basic, “Parlez-vous Français?” The cashier points to her partner. Then I say, “Quelle fleur est-ce que? Not exactly grammatically correct, but the second cashier says, “You can speak English. I think you prefer it.”
The Alps don’t provide the only adventure in Switzerland.