The Livable Capitals: Santiago, Bern and Berlin

Santiago, Andes, snow, winter, skiiing, Cihle

As I listed the capital cities I have visited, I kept thinking which would could be the “most livable.”  Livable, for me, means not an intense place, not one with millions of tourists ruining summer months, with character, and some great redeeming feature (the ocean, the mountains, a great river running through it, an amazing spot in history, etc.).  There were several candidates (and some definite ‘nevers’…) but the top three I landed on were:  Santiago, Bern, and Berlin.

Santiago (Chile)

This may be cheating a little but I have lived in Santiago already.  Twice.  Sort of.  I lived there for 3 months over 20 years ago staying at an apartment in the area called Providencia near Tobalaba.  Then I spent a whole year traveling back and forth, spending 60-65% of the year down there (though this second time I stayed at a hotel, the awesome Marriott on Ave. Kennedy).

And I would happily do it again because Santiago is such a livable place.  Traffic aside, it has everything I would want in a place to live.  Quiet enough for a city, arts and culture, great food, neat things to do on day trips (beaches, skiing, wineries, hiking, etc.), friendly locals, interesting architecture and neighborhoods, and the magnificent Andes as a backdrop – my favorite feature of this city.

Andes, cordillera, Santiago, Chile, view, Marriott hotel, photo

A wonderful view to wake up to every day!

I would likely live in Vitacura or Las Condes: not too far from the city center towards the mountains but near the river, a nice mall, and close to many of my favorite eateries.  I used to go running along Americo Vespucio towards the river then meander through neighborhoods.

Santiago, Andes, snow, winter, skiiing, Cihle

Granted, that was not the prettiest of winter days but imagine the great skiing further up in the Andes!

Hopefully, my job would be towards that part of town to avoid the pretty nasty traffic though – I commuted from that area to “el Centro” and that was, on a very good day, a 45-min commute each way.

Bern (Switzerland)

I am not as familiar with the next two cities as I am with Santiago as I have only spent all of a day in each – severely limiting knowing, for example, in what of town I would want to live in.  In my one day visit to Bern its compactness and its location struck me.  Bern is hugged by the Aar River (I wonder if so named to make sure it sorted first in lists of rivers….) and surrounded by hills that look down upon it.  Its old quarter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and this capital city of around 200,000 inhabitants has been included in the top ten best quality of life cities as recently as 2010 (do I choose them well or what??).

Aar River, Bern, Switzerland, old town, architecture, charm, capital

The Aar River along the old historic center of Bern

I think Bern would be a great place to spend a year or two, anchored in central Switzerland.  It may not be an easy place to fly in and out of which would be a drawback for getting back to the States but nothing that a good connection in Zurich, Munich, or –heaven forbid- Charles de Gaulle in Paris wouldn’t fix.

I enjoyed walking its old streets, enjoying the architecture and its details, and sitting at an outdoor café sipping some good beer!Bern, Switzerland, old town, architecture, charm, capital,

Perhaps the compactness of the town would get to me after some months but I think I could get used to it quite easily – plus there would be so many places to spend time visiting in a radius of less than half a day’s drive.  A little more ambitiously, it would not be much of stretch to launch weekend trips elsewhere to places like Bavaria, Austria, northern Italy, and –for sure- the rest of Switzerland itself!

Berlin

Berlin is clearly a major city and those can be a little too much in terms of livability but, in my short visit there, I got a sense for the variety of neighborhoods and cosmopolitan vibe of the place.  That, coupled with the deep and painful history this city has had, would draw me in as a place I could live in.

Berlin, Germany, history, architecture, Brandenburg gate

The iconic Brandenburg Gate – one of the many reminders of the city’s deep history

There seems to be a lot of turning over old areas into new districts to draw people in (I presume, a younger generation) and it would be interesting to see how Berlin continues to morph over the next 20 years.

Berlin, Germany, river, beach chairs

Berliners seeking some sun by the river – OK, it isn’t the Caribbean but let ’em enjoy!

Berlin, Germany, dark sky, architecture

Newer and older residential buildings

Living in Berlin would give me ample time to explore its arts scene while also geeking out on its Cold War, WW II, WW I, and imperial history.  Of course, German beer and food would not be far behind but that I could find anywhere in Germany too.  I just hope I don’t become “ein Berliner” after eating all that food!  (Thanks, JFK, for the idea.)

Great Drive Series – A Switzerland Sampler

Interlaken, Switzerland, travel, tourism, Alps, ice cold blue, Canon EOS Rebel

When I worked in Paris many moons ago for 6 months, one of the neat weekend trips I took was a rather rushed visit to Switzerland.  More than anything, we just wanted to leave France.  Having visited Heidelberg and worked in The Netherlands during that period, we opted to go south:  Switzerland (or Schweiz or Suisse, depending on which language you prefer).

We left work, grabbed our backpacks, and rode to the car rental offices in Paris to get our car.  We decided all this within i a day or two from leaving so had no big plans nor hotel reservations anywhere.  All we had identified was some target cities based on the easiest drive-around route.  This was when the Internet was not yet matured so even if we had had the time we would  not have gotten too much info on what to see and do.  So drive we did.

That Friday night, we overnighted in a French town named Besançon, a town of about 200,000+ residents, somewhat east of Dijon, and not far from the Swiss border for all practical purposes.  The town had an old casino which we thought we’d check out except it was all very smoky and we pretty  much just walked right back out, opting for dinner at some non-descript café before going to our small hotel to rest for the night.

The next morning we crossed the Swiss border where we had to buy a permit to drive in Switzerland.  I am not sure if that is still needed but make sure you find out before driving into the country.  We felt that to aim for Geneva would put us to far west and that we would have to backtrack on the same road to head eastward so we opted for passing on Geneva (much as it is definitely worth the visit).  We drove straight into Lausanne as our first stop though we made it a quick one to get info on the roads (i.e., get maps).  We spied the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee facing Lake Geneva, no doubt paid for by money the sponsors of the Olympics pay the IOC for their monopoly.  It looked like quite a pleasant city to live in, I must say.

Lausanne, switzerland, city, lake Geneva, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Sitting on the northern shores of Lake Geneva is Lausanne

Since we learned that Bern (Berne) and Interlaken were really the must-sees in the western half of Switzerland (we were not going to have enough time to explore the other half in one weekend AND return to Paris on time to show up at work Monday AM), we decided to not spend more time in Lausanne. The map below highlights in yellow the route we decided out which would take us close to Zurich but with no time to spend there, and would have us exit Switzerland at Basel, thereby minimizing backtracking in our route.

Switzerland, map, route, driving, Bern, Lausanne, Interlaken, travel, tourism

Instead we took off and decided the best route was along Lake Geneva (instead of heading back north of Lausanne and along Lake Neuchatel) where we were rewarded with views of the lake on one side and views of vineyards on the other (who knew!) before turning inland to head to Switzerland’s capital, Bern.  The weather, as you may notice, was not the best for awe-inspiring photography (as you can tell) but the sights were still beautiful.

Swiss, vineyards, Switzerland, Alps, drive, driving, travel, tourism, Canon EOS Rebel

Some of the many vineyards we drove by along Lake Geneva

Swiss architecture, Switzerland, Alps, drive, driving, travel, tourism, Canon EOS Rebel

THE narrowest steps I have seen, right by the road and NO handrail!

clock tower, Switzerland, Swiss architecture, drive, driving, travel, tourism, Canon EOS Rebel

Clock tower

Swiss architecture, Switzerland, Alps, drive, driving, travel, tourism, Canon EOS Rebel

Typical Swiss home along the shores of Lake Geneva

We arrived in Bern and sought the tourist information office – which you could count to be well-organized being a Swiss operation.  And it was!  The young woman helped us find a place to stay in the center of town – nothing fancy needed, just a clean bed and bathroom.  We checked in but immediately took off to our main target:  Interlaken.

The drive to Interlaken (“between lakes”), as the name alludes, requires you to drive along a lake.  The road was curvy and fun to drive.  We arrived at Interlaken and walked around, admiring the beautiful town and setting, with the ice blue waters flowing between Lake Thun (Thunersee) and Lake Brienz (Brienxersee) going right through town.  We found a neat spot to eat at and enjoyed a great late lunch admiring the view.

Interlaken, Switzerland, travel, tourism, Alps, ice cold blue, Canon EOS Rebel

Beautiful part of Interlaken

After some more walking, we headed back to Bern (wishing we had not found a hotel yet in Bern so we could stay at Interlaken instead… ) to have dinner and see some of the town.

Bern, Berne, Switzerland, view, vista, photo, travel, tourism, Canon EOS Rebel

Looking back towards Bern on the road towards Interlaken

The next morning we continued our drive (which took us back past Interlaken; the dreaded re-tracing of a route…) on our way to Lucerne, another Swiss town on the shores of the same-named lake.  We parked, walked around town, had lunch and started the long drive back to Paris.

One thing about driving in Switzerland is that there are never ending things to admire whether they be structures, lake, our mountains. You could say we barely scratched the surface on this beautiful country – clearly there are other great driving routes awaiting but for one weekend’s worth of sampling, I am pretty pleased!

 

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