Or: the Trials and Tribulations of an Uptown Girl with a Boyfriend from Old Europe

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Location: Basel, Switzerland

Saturday, October 21, 2006

An ordinary Saturday

This morning we went to the farmer's market in downtown Bern. Though there's always a small one in the Bankenplatz with perhaps 20 booths, on Tuesdays and Saturdays it metastasizes, spreading into the back streets of the old city. The variety is astounding. Like in New York, there's lots of fruit and vegetables - sweet Concord grapes with translucent skins (as well as some champagne-colored variety), green and black figs, round little apples, fat green gooseberries and tiny red raspberries and dusty blueberries, ripe gold and crimson tomatoes, tangles of mushrooms that I've never seen before, crisp green beans, and bright purple eggplants little bigger than my hand.

But in Bern, there are also stalls selling haunches of wild boar, capons with some of their feathers still on, whole rabbits, and fish of all different sizes and colors. There are cheese and olive markets, and bakeries with wonderful specialties like gâteau de Vully, a beautiful golden risen yeast cake from the French-speaking portion of Switzerland. It's topped with butter and cream and sugar and sliced almonds, and as I later discovered, a slice is simply divine with coffee.

As is our tradition, Swissy Pie and I also indulged in nearly a kilo of goods at our favorite cheese market: green olives stuffed with preserved lemons, Roquefort, Pecorino Romano, and winzerkäse, which has a fabulous rich, nutty flavor that I adore. We also got a bottle of vinho verde from one of the wine stores downtown. We'll see how it compares to the much cheaper Casal Garcia that we like so much.

In the afternoon we took a bike ride through the Lindental, one of my favorite loops in the Bern region. It has many virtues: it's a short, 30 mile loop; the scenery is spectacular, particularly now, in autumn, when all the hills are aflame with foliage; and most importantly, it's flat. (At least, about as flat as Switzerland gets.) This is particularly critical at the moment, since I'm renting a bicycle for the trip, a classic black Cilo steel frame with really elegant lines and surprisingly nimble handling. Unfortunately, it's a little heavy, and has what Swissy Pie calls the "hero crank" double configuration. So hills are a little difficult, and steep pitches downright impossible, at least in my out-of-shape state. But I survived the final climb up to the house, and afterward felt surprisingly good. So maybe I'm not as badly off as I feared.

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