I come out of the train in Bern, the warm air hits my face. People run around me holding groceries and suitcases, pushing kid’s strollers or eating a sandwich on the way to their train. It’s been unaturally warm in Switzerland on the last days of August; most people look fed up with the heat. I love it.
Bern buzzes in the rythm of a Saturday morning, it glows below the sun. We walk down to Aare, Bern’s landmark green, cold, beautiful river. There is a public bath area right below the Swiss parliament. Yes, Bern is the capital of Switzerland, no, not Zurich. Freibad Marzili: a huge park, grass everywhere, swimming pools, people lying on the ground on colourful towels, the smell of Swiss sausages and curry rice in the air. The river floats on the park’s side. Signs everywhere: “are you safe?”; “swimming reserved for good swimmers”, official warnings that read almost like threats.
We leave our bags on the grass, undress and follow the path parallel to the river. We walk barefoot below trees, a row of ambitious swimmers that joke and laugh and step on small sharp stones. The more you walk, the more time you’ll be able to swim. After a while we reach a bridge, there are some stairs leading down to the river. We walk down. Two ladies in their sixties are standing in the water, after a moment they dive in. The stream takes them away fast. I dip my toes in the water, it’s icy. I have second thoughts, the stream is fast, I’ve never swam in a river before, am I really a good swimmer? You’re silly he says, you can do it he says, it’s 19 degrees he says. Swiss precision in everything. I jump, he follows. The stream is strong, and pulls us smoothly back to the city. Exciting. Cold. Green. Uncontrolable. Simply perfect.
Later on, we stroll in the city. We cross Aare’s bridges. We go for food next to the river. We walk in the forest, the light is golden and the leaves are still green. The bear in the bear park is eating, tourists are leisurly stalking it. We pass by rose gardens, we stop at wine bars. The sun is setting. Walking back to the train station, a small italian gelateria. Ricotta e fichi: ricotta ice cream with caramelised figs. Bern feels like an island; people dining on teracces, couples having candlelit drinks. In the train, I fall asleep on his shoulder, I dream of green rivers and red roses.