Switzerland, Urban Walking
Comments 6

Nearly-Fatal Fribourg

MID-DECEMBER, 2010

I exit the train reaching instinctively for my liner gloves and my goat-skin mittens. Fribourg (French for “free fort”; Freiburg in German) is on the Swiss Plateau a few hours west of Sarah’s place in Cham; it’s also several degrees colder.

A hot cup of coffee and a sandwich at the station, those few months of French lessons a year or two ago paying off big time with an impeccably delivered Oui, merci. Several hundreds of dollars well spent.

Fortunately the woman at the tourist info place speaks good English. I go back out into the grey with a map and head into the Old Town. Something about this timeworn, attractive city, huddled around the snaking Sarine River and right on the French-German linguistic divide, is immediately appealing. And my feet, at least, know what they’re doing here. My fingers, aching within two layers of fabric, just want to go home.

I’m used to the predominantly German-language signage of central Switzerland. Fribourg was founded in the 12th century as a German-speaking settlement, but nowadays its population is two-thirds French-speaking:

Follow the little man...

Exhaling steam, clapping blood into my throbbing fingers, I gaze down at the Sarine, the distinct line separating the French-speakers to its west from the German- speakers to the east. Then I descend the covered steps…

..beside the water- (well, actually sewage) powered funicular train, last of its kind in Europe…

..in which the two cars counter-balance each other…

..to the silent, still, almost-deserted streets along the river:

A boy who likes a challenge

Across the Pont de St-Jean — St John’s Bridge — and the icy torrent of the Sarine:

First of several bridges

The Sarine, or Saane for German-speakers

I don’t know where everyone is. Indoors, huddled beneath their winter blankets, perhaps. It’s below zero Celsius, and every photograph is hurried so I can cram my blueish fingers back into their gloves.

I am briefly on a Germanic wedge of land between river and river-carved cliffs, the ornate striped shutters on the municipal buildings recalling those common further east:

But taking the Pont du Milieu — the Middle Bridge — over the Sarine once more…

..its banks enlivened with Christmas candles…

Colour beneath the cliffs

..I’m once more treated to a taste of France:

Crossing a narrow peninsula, it’s time for another bridge, this time the covered 13th-century Pont de Berne

..with its glimpses of an angel peering through the tunnelled cliffs…

Centuries-old cliff carving

..and the massive arches of the far more modern Pont de Zähringen, dating from 1924:

Along the Rue de la Palme I stroll to the magnificent medieval fortifications straddling the river at the Porte du Gottéron — Gottéron Gate:

..and climb a high, steep stairway to the promising vantage point of the towering cliffs. The weathered stonework is a treat to the eyes and the fingertips. I get a real kick out of the discernible tool markings of many centuries ago on these arrow-slits…

..the panorama more beautiful with every step:

Cathédrale St-Nicholas, left

As I approach my next goal, the smoothly curving lines of the 50-year-old, 76m-high Pont du Gottéron, the sun seems on the verge of a temporary breakthrough:

It’s here that my pleasant amble almost takes a deadly turn. Reaching the top of the stairs, I enter a small wood on the cliff-top, and follow a snow-dusted path through the trees. I’m prone to daydreaming as I walk, and using the shade to review some of my morning’s photos, I miss a turn in the path, and my feet move, of their own accord, towards the unfenced edge…

..till some instinct tells me to look up, and I stop mere centimetres from stepping over the sheer face of the cliff:

This was almost my last ever view

I step back, stunned, shaken. Crossing the bridge, I keep replaying morbid loops: my fall, my messy demise, some unfortunate local rushing to my remains. I tell myself what an idiot I am, I counter that at least I “died” doing something I loved, I snap back that not paying attention almost cost me a few decades more of doing that thing I loved…

But mostly I’m staggered at the unpredictability of life and death, how a pleasant winter walk in a beautiful European city came so sickeningly close to ending with a fatal misstep.

And then I bury the whole incident, and amble on, over to the high ground to the east…

..looking down from the bridge on the ancient fortifications…

..and down the road, with its view of the 14th-century Tour des Chats — Cats’ Tower:

The Tour des Chats, left

..to this imposing structure:

A short side-trip to see it up close…

..and down another deserted stairway to the Rue des Forgerons:

..and the impressive Porte de Berne:

I’m amazed, after passing through, to watch a bus squeeze through the gates:

The sun emerges, triumphant, and with it a resident’s bedding:

The fabulous Pont de Zähringen, and its lower-level footbridge, with a glimpse through the arches of the Cathédrale Saint-Nicolas (Fribourg), completed in 1490:

A last view along the Sarine, to the Gottéron Bridge I crossed just after my brush with disaster on that woody hill:

It’s still freezing but that sun is welcome indeed. I head back towards the train…

..past something you seldom see in the German part of Switzerland: graffiti. Even graffiti sounds poetic in French. I believe this one reads:

Empty houses, full prisons.

A last look down towards the river, a stop at the cheese shop for a chunk of fresh local Gruyère for Sarah, and I’m on my way homeward…

..grateful, as ever, for life and the things that make it so good.

Next post: A cold camp beneath a dinosaur’s jaws

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote

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6 Comments

  1. Relaxing read with beautiful views. It makes my suburban wasteland pale in comparison slightly…

    • Cheers, SW, me too! A really interesting town, that one. I’d really like to stroll through it again, maybe in the evening (suppose to have a fun night life) — definitely with both eyes wide open.

  2. a strawberry patch says

    First time I have seen this post-thought I had wandered through all of your Switzerland photos. Absolutely beautiful! Switzerland must be one of the most idyllic places in the world. I have wanted to see it since I was a child. Maybe one day!

    • Yes, it’s breathtaking — but I really recommend going in one of the balmier seasons, unless you’re extremely cold-tolerant! That wander round that beautiful place is one of my best memories in that country, (except for the brush with death!).

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