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22-25 May: Switzerland I (Basel, Bern, Luzern)

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

Leaving the hotel in Strasbourg went smoothly, and my wait for the train brief. While comprised of older carriages, there were few passengers (and lacked luggage space) so I put the bigger bag on two seats with the smaller on top, and sat across the aisle in a seat without a window. I spent the time writing with the Chromebook about my time based in Utrecht. Arriving in Basel, it was warm and sunny, too warm for the bomber jacket. Removed, I tried carrying it until the route proposed by Maps brought me to a 70-step staircase! Basel is a city of hills. I popped into a restaurant and got directions to the taxi stand, about 350m down a pedestrian street. For 10 Swiss francs (which I’d popped out of an ATM at the station), it was a 3-minute ride.

Amazingly, the hotel staff came out to help me unload my gear and bring it into reception. As I avoid stairs, they changed my room assignment to ground floor level. It was small, but overlooked a garden. With little floor space, I figured that for one night, it was fine.

Leaving the bags and jacket, I pulled the camera and my windbreaker (dark green, from my visit to Jameson’s in Dublin the year earlier) and set off for the Minster.

Front facade: Basler Münster / Basel Minster / Former Cathedral of Our Lady
Basler Münster / Basel Minster / Former Cathedral of Our Lady

Basler Münster / Basel Minster / Former Cathedral of Our Lady had been a cathedral from 1019 until the Protestant Reformation in 1500. I spent an hour in the double-spired dark stone church. Choir stalls had been relocated, beautifully carved with awesome misericords. A gallery sits above the side aisles and continues over the ambulatory, a feature I’d not encountered elsewhere. The stained-glass in the curved half-dome of the apse is a mix of clear glass and panels depicting Old Testament patriarchs. I ventured down into the crypt, with its curved arches in alternately colored stone. Out into the cloister, the garden had been allowed to grow wild, but still provided superb views.

After walking along the Rhine River a bit, I found the correct tram station and rode south to Arlesheim. Maps guided me up a slight incline and around a few bends to the Église Sainte-Marie / Church of St. Mary which had been the Arlesheim pro-cathedral for the period 1678-1792.

Front facade: Église Sainte-Marie / Church of St. Mary (former pro-cathedral) Arlesheim
Église Sainte-Marie / Church of St. Mary (former pro-cathedral) Arlesheim

My notes say “Rococo to the max,” describing both the exterior and interior. Situated on a square plaza with city buildings to its left and right, my pictures strained to gain an angle to show its depth. The pink and yellow pastel vault, gold trim and white filigree reminded me of a slightly understated Passau Cathedral. The choir stalls were highly crafted carvings, polished and obviously cared for.

Descending into the vault, the floor was glazed red brick, the walls a flat, mostly unadorned white, with a block altar and chairs on three sides. Back up to the nave, an organist began practicing the Bach Toccata and Fugue in D-minor; he’d play a phrase with one hand, stop and begin again on a different keyboard, then add a few stops and repeat. Apparently, this organ is very highly regarded, and this organist was exploring its features. A new experience for me! As I returned to the tram stop, I stopped for juice, bananas and chocolate, drinking the juice before the transportation arrived.

We ended about 3 stops before my Maps instructions, so I waited 7-minutes for the continuation. At a mobile phone store, I asked if they would assist me and install the T-mobile SIM in the replacement phone. Getting confirmation, I returned to the hotel. After lightening my backpack, and consuming a glass of “welcome drink” rosé, I returned and got my US phone semi-functional - I still needed to speak with T-mobile in the States to authenticate it. I searched several mobile stores for a case for the A21 replacement phone, to no avail - they said it was an older model and I might find one in Italy. Out of curiosity, I walked into a discount chain clothing store, The New Yorker, and found plain t-shirts for 7-10 Swiss francs - yes, clothing is rather pricy in Europe.

It was coming up on 6pm, so I stopped at Bar Fifty-Nine and quaffed a Grimberger dunkel as I updated my journal. The street was full of dining and shopping options, so I planned to return (up and down and up again those 70 steps) to find my dining option. During the next 90 minutes, a thunderstorm rolled through, causing many awnings to be extended over the pedestrian’s cobbles. I deferred returning to the hotel and walked into El Mexicano where I planned on having the burrito of the day, only to be told the specials were over, and I needed to pick from the menu. So with a bottle of Presidente, a beer from the Dominican Republic, I ordered pollo con mole (German description: zwei bestrichtene Poulut-Brüste, eine mit der original mexikanischer Mole Poblano und die andere mit Salsa Verde, aus gruner Tomaten, Peperoni und Kurbiskeren, dazu mexikanisher Gemuureseis und Gemuse.) The mole was thin, the verde a poor attempt, both barely applied. Rice and refried beans were staples, but nothing to merit liking. The chicken had been sliced thinly, but wasn’t tender or flavorful. I guess you’d rate it a fail.

Tuesday morning my back was cranky, but appreciated the spiffy Grohe shower. I was able to wheel the bags across the street and onto the tram heading down the hill and into the station where an escalator brought me to the platform. Luggage space was clear in the carriage, so for the hour ride making two stops I rode to Bern, I relaxed. Splurging the 15 CHF on a taxi, I rode to the hotel. While the room wasn’t ready, the Swiss tourist promotion where hotel guests are given a city transit pass was a great welcome. My plans for my two nights in Bern were to use the early arrival on the first day to make two “day trips”.

Crossing the street and riding a tram across a viaduct back to the station, I was soon on the train to Solothurn. I walked across the Aare River and up a rise (and about 30 stair steps) to the Cathedral of Sts. Ursus and Victor / Bistumskathedrale St. Urs und Viktor with an oxidized green copper dome at the crossing and an onion-dome topped tower at the east end.

Front facade up stairs: Cathedral of Sts. Ursus and Victor / Bistumskathedrale St. Urs und Viktor, Solothurn
Cathedral of Sts. Ursus and Victor / Bistumskathedrale St. Urs und Viktor, Solothurn

Baroque, the interior is white, with massive stacked-block rectangular columns supporting the central nave vault and the side aisles. The arches were filled with coffered bas-relief ornamentation, all in the same bright white (plaster?). A black-and-white marble high altar has gold embellishments as well as the tabernacle and candle sticks; the symbol for the Holy Spirit blazes out above the repository for the sacrament.

Opposite, above the west entrance, chrome organ pipes are displayed in dark wood casing garnished with gold leaf. Side marble altars have large oil paintings rising in gilt frames mounted above.

Walking back to the bridge, I paused to walk into Sankt Peters Kapelle, which faced onto a square and had a similar baroque facade as the cathedral. I actually found it highly decorated, more so than the cathedral. Over the top to my tastes, it was still a stunning interior.

Street scenes in Solothurn below.

The train back to Bern delivered me in time to catch the Geneva-bound train south, which I rode for 2 stops, alighting at Fribourg. I wandered through a sloping pedestrian mall downhill to a dark, neo-gothic single-towered cathedral squeezed into a neighborhood. Entering, the nave was separated from the narthex by an elegant, very fine iron gating, with a sign in both French and German announcing the building’s name.

Tower: Cathedrale St-Nicolas de Myre / Kathedrale St. Nikolaus von Myra. Fribourg
Cathedrale St-Nicolas de Myre / Kathedrale St. Nikolaus von Myra. Fribourg

Cathedrale St-Nicolas de Myre / Kathedrale St. Nikolaus von Myra had a brilliant gold-tinted light streaming through the stained-glass windows of the side aisles, giving the nave a warm glow. These windows appear to be newer, and the cartoons are eyebrow raising. A locked rood screen blocked a clear view of the apse, thus much of my photography was focused on the side altars, the paintings on and below the clerestory gallery, and the reliquary (which has 3 “arms”).

Returning north to Bern, I got to the hotel on a #5 bus and was assigned room 208. I knew I’d booked a hotel (or two) where I’d share a bath in the hall, and this was it. After some minor settling in, I got a dining recommendation and headed out.

The walk took me over the Aare again, on a high bridge which gave me great views of the city and the river. At the Goldener Schssel I had a non-filtered ale, Gurten bier, with an apero of homemade pita bread with three spreads: lime cream cheese, dried tomatoes, and wild garlic cream. The pita was hot, and I liked both the lime and garlic spreads. For my main, Frühlings cordon bleu (poulet) mit Rohschinken, getrocknet tomaten, Bärlauch und Gruyeere, dazu Saisongemuse. Good veggies, and the chicken was deep fried. Risotto was the side, served al dente, which was perfect.

I’d been dining inside (I left the hotel only wearing a polo) and it was early. Inside the other customers were a pair of (North American) English-speaking couples, and a pair of older gentlemen having a cola. The two servers were stumbling over us, however outside the bar crowd was bustling and the cigarettes and vapes were going full on. I returned to the hotel and read before bedtime.

Wednesday the 24th, after a shower and the hotel-provided breakfast (banana, 2 coffees, croissant with cheese and salami, OJ) I spent about 90 minutes in the dining space writing more of the blog for Utrecht. Feeling accomplished, I left, crossing to catch the bus into town.

Backlit, front facade Bern Minster
Bern Minster

Locating the Bern Minster, a former cathedral, I was annoyed to find that there was an admissions fee and photography inside was prohibited. Voicing my displeasure, I left to get outside shots. Off to a mobile phone store. Discovering that my German SIM in the A14 “Luxembourg” mobile had stopped working, I got a SIM for Switzerland, however it didn’t have an actual phone number.

Moving to the Rathaus Bern (city hall), I spent a chilly half hour waiting on a 2-hour walking tour’s guide who never showed. My research indicated that the Saints Peter and Paul Church is the Christian Catholic bishop's church, so I headed that way. While I was able to enter the narthex, the nave and apse were behind locked gates. I determine this was the church of the sect similar to the Old Catholics, but that it had never been considered a cathedral.

Back to roam the streets, I came to an overlook with a great view, and spotted a funicular that appeared to go down to the old town. More window shopping, alarmed at the high prices (besides, I really don’t need anything.) A sign offering a haircut for 18 CHF (rather than the 28 I’d seen elsewhere) drew my attention, and 20 minutes later I’d had my ears lowered (and a bit more than I wanted removed from the top.) It was time for a late lunch, so into Lirum Larum for a local fass (draft) called Tram depot, a Marzen; amber in color and a decent flavor.

After wetting my whistle, I continued to stroll and window-shop, eventually arriving at the bridge over the river, where I got some cityscapes and crossed so I could climb back to the hotel. I spotted a shop with some lovely costume jewelry, which I snagged. Once at a tram shop, I rode up the hill, keeping an eye out for a bakery to get bread. Unsuccessful, the hotel staff provided me with a plate, a knife, some bread and I enjoyed my Alsatian cheese and saucisson, along with a snort of the whisky. I was out back in the pocket garden, and stayed about an hour, until the evening cooled. I came in, returned the supplies, and climbed to the room for a brief laydown.

Heading out for a bit of supper, I decided to try Kitchen Republic, an Asian restaurant. The menu was accessed with a QR code on the phone, which I still won’t do, so the staff provided me a tablet to select items. Starting with pork momo (steamed momos with pork meat, shitaki mushrooms and smoky honey flavor, with ponco sauce), I found adding chili to the dipping sauce made the buns tasty. Next “planted and ginger wok”, fried planted chicken with ginger, chili, water spinach, pak choi, and jasmin rice. Again, I added more chili paste to the dish, punching it to my level of preferred spiciness.

Back to the room, I used my Swiss SIM in the German/Luxembourg phone to call T-mobile and got the replacement phone finally working, and it downloaded the stored backup data that was on the old LG phone back home. I packed (with my laundry getting serious) and went to sleep.

Up the morning of the 25th of May, I had breakfast and then crossed the street, taking a bus to the station where I caught the 10am train. Not particularly busy, we arrived in Luzern on time. Opting to use local surface transportation, I found that trams were free and rode 3 stops to the Ibis budget I’d booked. Room 550 was cleaned and ready for me, but had no useable floor space. I’d planned for this, with all I’d need for the next day put in the smaller roller.

Heading outside, wearing just a t-shirt (no cathedral to visit) and the bomber jacket, I noted it was almost cool enough to make use of the puffer coat that I was still hauling around. Hunting around the shops near the train station, I was having no luck finding a case for the replacement A21 phone. Moving on, I visited the Tourist Office and booked a 45-minute jitney tour of the city, followed by an hour boat ride on the lake.

Exploring, I entered Peterkapelle, a simple church which had interesting Stations. Wandering along the Reuss River, looking in shop windows and admiring architecture, I found St Leodegar, a church I’d researched. It had been the base of the Papal Nuncio (like an ambassador) during the Protestant Reformation. There is a nice rood screen and baptismal font there.

The jitney tour was okay, with a pre-recorded narrative available in multiple languages over the provided earphones. I thought we doubled back a few times, and the recording wasn’t always timed well.

One memorial of interest was to the Swiss Guards who had died in Paris during the 1789 Revolution (Löwendenkmal.) On the river boat ride, I sat in the bow. The weather was hazy and cloudy, cool, but there really weren’t many things to get pictures of.

After returning to the room, I found it frigid, needing to learn how to set the thermostat so it stayed at my preferred temperature. Texting to the US, I felt better about being back in touch with Florida. The room had only one electrical outlet, so I began charging the battery in the camera before heading out for dinner. Opting for pizza, I entered Prizzi and asked for a Eichof lager (local beer) and a large seasonal salad with garlic croutons. Craving flavor, I ordered a Diavolo pizza, adding gorgonzola and parmesan toppings. The ruffage was good, but I was still able to eat the full pie save about half the crusts. The salami had been sliced too thin, not yielding too much flavor, but the extra cheeses really helped.

Diavolo pizza at Prizzi
Diavolo pizza at Prizzi

Skyline view from hotel ibis
Skyline view from hotel ibis

Back at the room, I got an evening shot of the skyline.

Book: Cathedrals to the Glory of God
Cathedrals to the Glory of God

You can purchase your own copy

(or have me send it as a gift) of

Cathedrals to the Glory of God

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Beautiful photography Ken - and your stories are the perfect companions. Thank you!

KB Cook
KB Cook
Aug 22, 2023
Replying to

Thank you Susan. I appreciate your taking the time to read my blog and write a comment!

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