Another sleepless night… The main difference with this night compared to the others was that I re-routed our course online. We were going to head to Paris for the 20th and 21st but after checking out hotels and finding nothing under $600 USD, I decided to look for an alternate solution. While Trina worked away in the hotel lobby area, I plotted out a detour to Bern, Switzerland.
I booked both legs of our train (Milan to Bern and Bern to Paris), booked our hotel room and also checked out some things to do in Bern. This is when I came across the bear pits but more on that later. So, after booking all of our travel, I then realized that we still needed to find lodging for the night in Paris… for the 21st.
I tried near the airport to make it nice and easy but there was NOTHING available. The only hotel that showed availability was a hotel that (and I’m not even kidding with my next sentence) charged $3,800 a night. WHAT?! I could fly around the world with an around-the-world ticket for less than that price. Insane. So… we decided to try out a hostel instead. We looked at a few but a friend of ours told us that Paris hostels, while a whole lot of fun, tend to be a bit ghetto. I booked us into one but after the fact read some reviews on it on TripAdvisor.com (a great website to use if you are ever looking for information and reviews on different hotels. Users post photos, reviews, rate it by star level and recommend it to certain subsets of people. So… back to the hostel.
Trina got really excited about this one because it had a name that said ducky in it… Or three ducks… Or something like that. She just thought the ducky part was funny. I was sceptical and did my research. Turns out, this place is disgusting. According to reviews, there is dirt everywhere and one girl reported that in the middle of the night, she woke up to someone OUTSIDE of her room reaching inside her room to grab her backpack and run… This person SCALED the wall of the hostel to grab her bag… After reading a few more nasty reviews, I immediately went to the e-mail and requested a refund.
So anyway, after going through the insanely priced Paris hotel experience (our first night in Paris at the Paris Hilton wasn’t that expensive… I wonder why the insane price increase?!) and going through the ghetto hostel experience, we settled on the next best thing… We’re going to sleep at the airport. You see, I’ve done this more times than I can count… Most times, involuntarily. Tonight, we’ll be going because we have nowhere else to go and the airport does provide some comfort as well as a roof over our head. We won’t be homeless!
Anyway, I stayed awake all night and Trina slept for about an hour or so. We both showered and got ready and headed to the train station. I was thinking we had lots of time as I had wrote down 7:52am and we were doing the self-issuing ticket thing so I thought we’d be flying through. Well… turns out my dyslexia got the best of me and I wrote down 7:52am when it should have been 7:25am!! So, we were 30 minutes late… The worst part is that we SAW the train when we came up the stairs but we had to check since Bern, Switzerland isn’t what is written on the platform sign… Turns out, Brig is the last stop and Bern is just a stop along the way.
So, we head back downstairs to ticketing and I leave Trina to sit against a wall with all of our bags. She had already had experiencing doing the pseudo-homeless thing… In Munich, I had left her with all of our bags to go inside of a store and stock up on drinks and snacks for the train. Well, when I was inside, she was holding a coffee cup out sort of at arms length and people were staring at her like she was homeless. Turns out, in Milan, some guy offered her 10 Euro! With the price of the Swiss Franc, I kinda wish she would’ve taken it
Anyhow, I go to the ticket counter to get new tickets and was told that I was going to have to pay a change fee. I got nervous for a split second – I can’t stand extra fees and often find them ridiculously over-priced. Turns out, this one was only 5 Euro! Woohoo! So… we got our new tickets for an hour later and we hopped on the train for Bern, Switzerland.
The train ride wasn’t too long (but then again, my definition of “long” has changed a lot since being here… Now, a four or five hour train ride is peanuts while a twelve hour bus ride seems only slightly long…) and the scenery along the way was absolutely gorgeous. We had the opportunity to drive through the Swiss Alps which was nothing short of beautiful. It was a peaceful train ride and I sipped Espresso and read more of “My Year of Living Biblically” while Trina snapped shots of the scenery that passed. Oh yes – I also worked on campaign / promotional text for Sheri McConnell’s preview call series… Check it out and register if you’d like to!
We landed in Bern, Switzerland and we were greeted with sunshine and the most peaceful, calming air I have felt on this trip (next to Vienna… the air there was really, really different). It’s hard to believe that air could feel different but it does. There is this generally sense of calmness in places like Vienna and Bern. Almost like stress levels are gone, people are kinder and the atmosphere is just more laid back. A place like Prague had thick, busy, heavy air. You could feel the tension, the oppression and the general, “I’m on a mission… get out of my way” sort of attitude.
Coming out of the station, we walked a short ten minute walk and ended up at our hotel. The Swiss Metropole hotel which was in a prime location. Although, due to Bern’s small size and small population, despite being the Capital city, I can’t imagine anything is a hike! We had a Starbucks at our doorstep, a few cafes and bars and walking trails. Perfect for a city to relax in.
After checking in, we checked out our temporary digs for the next 24 hours. It was really old and at first we were thinking, “Oh boy… coming from some of the hotels we were in, this is not a luxury hotel by any means!” but after a little investigation, we realized we might have come across the most service-oriented hotel yet. The hotel had laundry facilities on site (7 Francs to do an entire load whereas most hotels in Europe charge 3.50 Euros for a pair of panties!), free breakfast, Internet service available, terrace with views of the city, games room and more. Great place to spend our last night in a hotel!
So, we dropped our stuff and set out to explore the city. As I mentioned previously, my research that I was able to sneak in about Bern (otherwise known here in Europe as Berne and if you want to learn how to actually say that properly, ask any person who speaks Swiss German!) taught me that the Capital city was actually named after the Bernese Bear – a common bear found in these parts. Due to the animal being so highly revered (it made its way onto coats of arms, various emblems and uniforms throughout history and as part of the architecture in Bern) the city erected bear pits where they placed bears to be seen and enjoyed by the public.
Well… one thing you’ll learn about me is that I love zoos and seeing any animal in person that I’d be scared to meet in the wild. It’s sort of like testing the primal waters without being overly scared about doing so… Anyway, we found the Bernese bear pits and video taped him and took photographs of him for nearly an hour. I was enthralled! We did a little National Geographic moment too where I explained what I knew about the Bernese bear (okay, I was reading) and Trina taped the bear. It also laid on its back and people threw approved bear food down to him and he caught nearly every piece in his mouth. It was really cool! (Yes, I realize that I now sound like a fourth grader after her first time going to the zoo… haha)
Oh, I almost forgot. Before we got to the bear pits, we took a walk down the hiking / walking trail. Luckily, it led to the bear pits so it only made sense for us to experience some of Bern’s beautiful nature. We walked along the river and the leaves were all beautiful colors and there was a small walking bridge where we stopped to take some photographs. It was gorgeous and the weather was perfect… oh, and we had Starbucks in hand! We hadn’t seen one since BERLIN! For shame.
We headed back toward the hotel and walked past different shops that were outdoors yet covered. Imagine this, you’re staring down a street and you see beautiful buildings. The buildings look fairly inconspicuous. Now, you walk through an archway and find yourself beside the road but now in a long hallway that has shops and shops and shops lining it. It’s really neat actually because I almost feel that they’ve preserved the city from looking too commercial yet still included all of the much-needed retail stores.
We decided it was time for some lunch so we stopped in at this place called Tavver which was a grocery store and a cafe. The neat thing is, that we only learned after ordering, is that the cafe is entirely organic. So, the food and drinks were not what you’d find elsewhere but rather purely organic. The buffet was a little expensive but to me, it was totally worth it. The food was delicious and light and contained a lot of vegetables and fish. Delicious! I also had some lemonade that was sweetened entirely with honey. Really good stuff.
After we ate, the rest of the day didn’t contain too much travel excitement. We headed back to the hotel, setup our computers for Internet and spent the evening working. Both Trina and I got caught up entirely with zero e-mail in our inboxes, so we decided to sleep a bit before heading to the train station around 6:30am…
So, that concluded day one in Bern. Very pretty city… a bit on the boring side and you really can see all of the attractions there quite quickly if you wanted to but we didn’t go for the sights. Bern is the capital of Switzerland which means we can add another country to our list and we got to take a train through the Alps. Bern also has amazing views of the mountains and really… you don’t get much more Swiss than that.
Technorati Tags: Erin Blaskie, The Traveling VA, virtual assistant, virtual assistance, Bern, Switzerland, Milan, Italy, Bernese bear, bear pit, bear pits, Bern bear pits, Bern bears, Tavver, organic food, hostel
I loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooove Milan.
It wouldn’t be my favorite city on the planet (that I’ve been to anyway) but it certainly was a great experience thus far! We landed in Milan late last night (around 7pm) and tried to grab a map from the Information Desk but guess what? The information desk had no information. So, yeah, that part wasn’t THAT helpful… However, after asking the police where the street our hotel was located was, we found out that it was literally RIGHT in front of the train station… WOOHOO!
So, a short five minute walk later, we were standing in front of the palace, I mean hotel, and we were both thinking, “Woohoo! We scored on this one!” For those of you who are thinking that I must just be super wealthy to afford all of these four and five star hotels, I’m sorry… I’m not. I do however have a very good website called Priceline.com that I’ve been using for every single hotel on this trip. Now, you can go to Priceline.com and just type in any city and it’ll give you a list of hotels at regular price but you DO NOT want to do that. Instead, click on Name Your Own Price. So… you enter in the price YOU want to pay, the hotel star level you want and the area and click “Name That Price” and it’ll see if any hotel is willing to accept it.
We’ve had a few cities that wouldn’t accept our offer (it was too low) but I’ve found on average that you can get most hotels that are four and five stars between $80 - 120 American. Not bad for living it up across Europe! For two people at any hostel, you’ll pay anywhere from 25 - 50 Euros per person which totals anywhere from 50 - 100 Euros which is $75 - 150 Canadian. So, it all works out for me!
We got up to our room, unpacked a bit and then headed to the grocery store to pick up some food rather than buy the REALLY expensive room service (it’s insane here…) We got back, unloaded it into the mini bar and made some sandwiches and had olive crackers. Yum! The rest of the night was work, chatting with home and then… sleep!
We woke up late… Around 12:30pm (yes, seriously) and then we showered and headed out to the shopping area of Milan.
Outside of our hotel, there was actually a flea market taking place so we wandered around the flea market checking out the wares. It was cool - this flea market was like most of our antique shops back home… The stuff was GORGEOUS!
The flea market with our hotel Le Meridien in the background.
Before heading to shop, we passed by a Gelateria and of course… I could not help myself from going in. SERIOUSLY FOLKS… What I am going to do when I go home? Ice cream in Canada (or North America) just does not compare with this stuff. I’m going to have to find a gelato exporter from Italy so I can have it in Canada.
Most stores were closed due to it being Sunday but that didn’t stop us :) We wandered around and went into some of the open stores and browsed. I found this one store that I liked and after seeing a top that caught my eye, I had to go in and try it on. A few minutes later and I was one bag and one shirt heavier.
The bag I bought in Milan, Italy - real leather!
The shirt I bought in Milan, Italy - after wearing nothing but black for 3 weeks - this shirt is a pleasant splash of color! I love vibrant and loud shirts
While wandering through the streets, we happened across the Piazza and Church that Milan is known for. It’s a huge gothic-inspired Church with tons of spires and on the spires are little statues of people. Semi-scary really!
The gothic-inspired Church in Milan, Italy
Cotton candy made the afternoon even better!
Virgin Records had a big stage-like thing setup and a mock up of the Beatles album cover where they are crossing Abbey Road in London, England. Well… me and my cotton candy (so delicious) could not resist standing in line for a photo. We couldn’t fit all of us in (there was a stupid metro entrance in the way) but here’s me with one of the Beatles.
Erin standing in line with The Beatles.
We then entered into the most famous shopping stretch in Milan. It’s got a domed roof and it’s absolutely breathtaking!
Milan’s famous enclosed shopping area.
The dome of Milan’s most famous shopping area.
We then stopped at the Gucci cafe for some cappucinos and cake… So delicious! By this point, we were truly loving the fashion-focused Milan.
Erin & Trina at the Gucci cafe in Milan, Italy.
Now we’re back at the hotel and I’m settling in for some work. I want to get everything caught up before our 9 hour train ride to Paris tomorrow. Can’t believe I go home in 2.5 days!!
Today ended up being rather uneventful actually. The plan was to wake up early and go to the Sistine Chapel and the Castel St. Angelo but we slept through the alarm and decided not to rush over there. By the time we did get there though, the line-ups were so long that we decided not to wait. Turns out, according to CTV, the Pope was actually holding a meeting in the Sistine Chapel so THANK GOD (haha - literally) that we did not wait in line.
So, we walked back, had some lunch (lasagne and a cannoli) and then headed to the train station.
It’s now 2:35pm and we’re on our way to Milan (spelt Milano in this part of the world). I’m excited as this is the fashion capital of the world but I’m even MORE excited because I booked us into a Starwood Resort Hotel and for the next three days and two nights, we’re going to be relaxing, working and just generally decompressing. I’m hoping that we can find a laundry service in Milan – I mean, you’d think if anywhere in the world offered laundry service, it would be there… They probably have more pieces of clothing per square inch than people!
Okay, so enough of my discussing clothes and the dirty state my laundry is in… LOL I’ve realized something that will make all girly-girls everywhere gasp… I don’t actually need a lot of clothes to survive! Or shoes! Or handbags! Or accessories! However, it doesn’t mean I’m going to go home and trade in all of my stilettos for Birkenstocks and my silk dresses for chinos… On the contrary, it makes me appreciate them more and realize that I need to wear my nice clothes every day! LOL Especially since I could end up in a time (three weeks in Europe) when I only have three measly (and all black) outfits to choose from. I am so in need of some color that I think I’m going to ask Steve to bring me a colourful scarf from my closet just so I can “do” a splash of color.