Full disclosure; this blog posts is a love letter to two of my favourite European cities, Bern and Amsterdam. I recently returned from a whirlwind week in these two different, yet equally beautiful cities in Europe. It was my first time in both the Netherlands and Switzerland and although these two countries are so very different, it was amazing to spend time in both, revelling in the differences.
Bern, the capital of Switzerland
I feel like there are always a few different stories making the rounds about Switzerland, as though no one really knows what is going on there. I think that the Swiss actually prefer it that way, but what I learned in the very short time that I spent in their capital is that they are a highly regulated society. There are loads of rules and you, even as a tourist, are expected to follow it by the letter.
Walking in the streets you’ll often feel like you are walking in a ghost town, seeing that Switzerland is not that densely populated and people spend their weekends relaxing. We visited Bern in mid-September, so it was the start of autumn but also the very last little bit of summer, and we seized the opportunity to go hiking and swimming.
Because of their long and extremely cold winters, the Swiss really knows how to make the most of their summers and at any given time you’ll see them outside in the sun having a beer, walking, hiking or swimming. They also have some fantastic markets, where you can buy fresh produce, sweets and more.
To me, the most awe-inspiring thing about Switzerland was probably the abundance of water. Everywhere you look water flows freely and the water is so extremely clear that you can see the bottom of every pool, pond or lake. It is also very green and leafy (in the summertime) and no matter where you look you are met with green pastures or vineyards or forests.
I’d love to go back one day and experience Switzerland in the winter with snow and Christmas markets everywhere, but for this first-time visit, I’d say that Switzerland is most definitely a must-visit in the summertime. It’s extremely easy to get around by train or tram, so definitely make use of the opportunity to see as much of the country as possible.
Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands
So much has been written about this ‘Venice of the North’ that it is almost impossible to say something new about it, but being there for the very first time was a dream come true. I studied Afrikaans / Dutch at the University of the Free State and so much of our literature was either situated in the Netherlands or derived from Dutch culture that I felt so privileged to experience this special city.
Amsterdam is an extremely busy city, overflowing with bikes, culture and the smell of bitterballen and stroopwafels. Everywhere we looked the vintage buildings reminded me of childhood tales and bygone eras. I was once again astonished at the amount of water flowing through this city. As we ventured outside of Amsterdam, we even saw farmlands separated by canals, rather than fencing.
The entire city is adorned in the most beautiful array of colourful flowers, and Amsterdammers and tourists alike lounge canalside enjoying a beer or some of the wide variety of food available. And as the sun sets, the inner city transforms into the grungy, Red District night time playground it has become so famous for.
As I walked down De Wallen, I was surprised to find the Red Light district exactly as I had imagined it. There are shops open till late, girls in windows, pubs and bars, as well as the famous coffee shops where you can buy… let’s just call it coffee. I also had some of the best seafood of my entire life at a little cafe called The Seafood Bar, we opted for the Fruits de Mer Royale which is a tower of seafood, topped by my favourite – oysters!
I’d definitely go back to either of these cities. There is so much left to explore in the Bern countryside and so much of the cultural part of Amsterdam that I never even got to touch on. If you ever have the opportunity to visit either of these, definitely grab it with both hands!
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