10 January 2010

A tale of two securities

Barcelona is behind us and we're back in Switzerland, in the very heart of the federation - Bern. We left Barcelona in the rain (which gave the city a dirty, drab feel, which fit perfectly with the dour faces of the passengers and petty criminals on the Barcelona metro) and arrived in Bern with the Swiss version of rain: snow. Everything in the city is covered in a layer of white. Some pictures to illustrate: me with the Universal Postal Union monument, the Swiss Parliament, a Bern bear in the new (and much larger) bear park and, just for mum, a photo from the top of a wood-panelled stairwell leading up to the cathedral.

More tales from Bern at another time; right now, some more tales from the journey from Barcelona.

You will remember that some years ago, terrorists exploded a bomb on a train in Madrid. Since then, it seems, 'security' procedures have been implemented at all major Spanish international train stations. The station from which we departed in Barcelona had a typical airport-style security check point set up: luggage x-ray machines, security personnel and lots of posters about what is and what is not allowed on the trains. The list of contraband items included (understandably) all knives. Now, in my suitcase, I had packed my Swiss Army knife (because it's got useful things like scissors and a bottle-opener and also a little knife that I'd picked up in Zurich to sut up fruit and bread and things). So it came as a real suprise to me when the guards just waved me through after I'd put my bags through the scanner. More suprising was how the guards didn't bother asking to scan or search any of the passengers or the bags that passengers decided not to put on the scanner. I suppose Manuel and Jose at the checkpoint operate on more of a 'trust' system. Spanish security at its best. Anyway, I showed my items to the train guard and he said they were fine.

Things were not so laid back when we crossed the frontier back into Switzerland. At 6:00 am we heard a loud knock on our cabin door and were greeted by two armed Swiss Frontier guards holding our passports. They spoke no English. More worringly, when I asked, they said they didn't really speak any German. We were crossing near Geneva, and, according to the guidebooks, most people in Francophone Switzerland don't bother continuing to learn German after primary school - despite it being the majority language in Switzerland - which does not compare favrouably with their German-speaking compatriots who, almost universally, are fluent in French (and speak impeccable English too); so, the guards' quizzical expressions when I was trying to explain the nature of our visit in German did not come as a complete surprise. They demanded we open up all our bags and they searched through all of our possessions - even going so far as to open up a little tin box of chocolates that had been gift wrapped in Zurich to check that they were actually chocolates. Things were getting a little concerning as the langauge divide was making the guards more shouty and us more worried. Luckily, I was able to pull out my superbly-presented (and tasetfully-formatted) full-colour itinerary clearly showing that, in fact, we were neither illegal immigrants planning on settling in Switzerland nor drug mules importing kilos of charlie from Barcelona to Zurich. After being given a little 'thumbs-up' gesture from the guards, we were soon left in relative peace, until about half an hour later, when Swiss immigration officials knocked on our door to check our faces against our passports. At least the immigration chaps apologised for waking us and, unlike the frontier guards, were cheking the whole carriage. The frontier guards chose to seach only us, presumably because they could tell from our passports and ticket that we had spent only a couple of days in Barcelona and deemed this behaviour 'suspicious'. Swiss security at its most dilligent.

1 comment:

Anne said...

And the journey continues ... bad luck re security check but glad it all worked out ... love the pix, particularly the one that shows things haven't changed since the 70s! M