As you can imagine, I get lots of suggestions for places to visit and include in my website. Thun got a number of recommendations -- "Oh, you'll just love the castle", "The marketplace is gorgeous", "What a scenic view of the Alps", "Be sure to take a ride on the Dragon Boat!" With a place so highly recommended, how could I not go? Well, I finally went, hoping to see for myself the castles, the marketplaces, the Alps, and the ... 'Dragon Boat'? The good news was that I saw the castle and the marketplaces, and found those two things plenty sufficient to recommend it as a tourist destination -- despite the fact that a dense fog precluded any viewing of the Alps... more on the Dragon Boat later.
Thun (pronounced TOON) was a short train ride southeast of Bern, on the same river, the Aare. It was at Thun where the Aare widened to become the Thunersee, an absolutely crystal clear Alpine lake in central Switzerland. Trains between the two cities ran constantly, and boat shuttles constantly took people to the little towns dotted along the Thunersee.
But Thun's major attraction was its Castle, the Schloss Thun, shown in the first photo. Rarely had I seen a Castle that seemed so majestic. In fact, the Castle's high windows immediately reminded me of that fairy tale Rapunzell, the one who lowered her long, long hair so her lover could use it to climb up the tall tower and rescue her.
Fairy tales aside, the Schloss was a fascinating museum with a great variety of exhibits. One floor was dedicated to medieval weaponry and dress, another showed medieval Swiss rural life, another was a Swiss military museum -- dedicated to the Waffenplatz Thun garrison that was just a few blocks west of Thun's downtown. Plus the Castle's history got its due, including an exhibit on the dungeon. Finally, and most importantly, the Castle's four towers were open as vantage points from which I viewed the gorgeous surroundings (fog permitting).
The second photo was taken of the Rathaus from one of those tower windows. The Rathaus (town hall) was a classy, bright white building with its own market square (as evidenced by the various tents). The Rathaus sat on the east bank of the Aare River and overlooked the town Insel -- a long island upon which a large chunk of Thun's Old City resided.
As the old song went, "On a Clear Day you could see forever," well if I could see 200 feet in front of my face due to the fog I'd have included views of the Alps and the Thunersee from up there in the tower. I know they were there, because the city's popular postcards said so. Even still, the view of the downtown and the Aare River itself were definitely worth the climb.
I really enjoyed the marketplaces downtown, especially the Obere Hauptgasse, shown in the third photo. The flag of the bear over the street represented the province of Bern (which literally means "bears"). The flag behind it with the white stripe and gold seven-pointed star represented the city of Thun. The mural in the distance of the guidon-bearing soldier also showed the flag of Thun (in brown and white).
I was really fascinated by the architecture of the street. Note the miniature storefronts on the lower right. Those weren't miniature -- they were underground. The road was about two or three meters below sidewalk level, and the sidewalk was the roof of another row of stores.
The Obere Hauptgasse was the ritzier section of town, with the fancy clothes, exotic souvenirs, and other upper-crust goods and services. Meanwhile, the 'regular' shops and marketplaces were down on the banks of the Aare or the Insel. The Saturday antique market, shown in the fourth photo, was set up on the Mühlenplatz, near the Rathaus.
The Ober- and Unterbällitz are actually one street running the length of the Insel, and that was where the majority of the real shopping resided -- the street markets and crowded cafés. They were plenty crowded during lunchtime on Saturday.
A walk around the banks of the Insel was refreshing. The Aare was dammed in several locations by old-fashioned wooden dams that double as bridges. When I visited, the waters were clearly high, and several gates of the dams were open. I thought they were beautiful to watch. Meanwhile, the Insel offered great views of the Castle or the city's second most prominent structure, the Stadtkirche, shown in the final photo.
I took about an hour to take a hike along the Aare to the south away from the downtown toward the Thunersee. Schadau Park, and its beautifully preserved Schloss Schadau, was a great place to see the lake. I witnessed a photo session from a wedding just-completed there, and the Castle was the perfect spot for such an occasion. Schadau sits on the mouth of the Aare, so I had the chance to watch a couple ships passing by up-close. The Thunersee was very shallow there, and the water was so close that it was easy to see the bottom. (I remarked to a friend how the tap water in my hotel was better than most bottled waters.)
Now, as far as the "Dragon Boat" went, at least I was able to find what that meant. Pictures in the Castle depicted a dragon-shaped boat (a hideous dragon shaped boat) that ran once or twice daily on the normal boat routes around the Thunersee. I unfortunately didn't get to see it in the harbor. Oh well, maybe next time.
But I suspect there will be a next time for Thun. The idea of taking one of those boat rides around the little towns on the Thunersee seems very appealing. But it is more appealing because Thun was a great place to visit.
Trip Taken 5 October -- Last Updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2001 Tom Galvin