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Published: December 6th 2015
Nice old-town streets
"The Island that is not". This is the literal translation of Peter Pan's utopia of "Neverland" from Italian to English. Mostly meanings get lost in translation but in very rare cases, a translated word acquires a new and deeper kind of meaning than the original. Wittgenstein would be proud.
If I would equal Switzerland with "Neverland" it would not make a lot of sense. "L'isola che non c'è", the island that is not, on the other hand, is the best possible description of the country that I can think of (which doesn't mean you couldn't come up with a better one). Well, as an initial obstacle you might notice that Switzerland is not an island in a strict sense. On the contrary, it could not be much more landlocked than it is. The only "ferries" in Switzerland refer to little boats cruising on its numerous lakes and to trucks transporting cars (for lots of dinero) through one of its numerous tunnels.
With exception of its geographical features, Switzerland is anyhow the most islandish nation possible. It is not part of the European Union, European Monetary Union, has been barely part of World War 1&2, and the country is pretty
much on its own planet. I have also learned the hard way that even nature considers Switzerland a world apart, being blessed (or cursed) with its very own micro climate. Living barely 50 km from the Swiss border and being bear hugged by one of the most brutal heatwaves that Europe has ever seen, I left with THH and a small backpack full of short-sleeves, shorts and my dear flip flops to the other side of the border, directly into the mostly Ladin speaking Grison Canton. Within only 24 hours my wannabe-Acapulco summer experience has anyhow transformed in a Swiss freezing nightmare. Just traveling for an hour or so, we lost about 16 degrees Celsius in a day and the temperature dropped to a minimum of 14 degrees. The constantly overcast sky and down pouring rain also did its part to make things as difficult as possible. Well, you could have just bought some clothes you say? Think again.
Switzerland, as the island that is not, also has its very own pricing system. Simply spoken, its backbreaking expensive. Take your normal price for anything, triple it and you have a Swiss experience. Count at least 6 USD for an
In case you were wondering...
espresso, and about 50 USD for a somewhat decent meal. Being on a wait for my next salary, I decided to take the punishment for my idiocy and freeze it out. As we entered the country from the east and we arrived in the city of Chur, capital of Grison, it was only a little chilly in the evenings. No big deal yet. We decided to spend a little more time indoors, bar and restaurant prices permitting. From Chur we took a train to Zurich, the not-capital-but-most-important city of Switzerland. At this point things were getting more and more pricey. Although booking trains online (in advance) can safe you up to 50% of the ticket price, even the cheapest of meals in Switzerland will not cost you less than 15-20 USD. Our last stop was the city of Lucerne in central Switzerland, where we spent our anniversary and (fittingly?) slept in the old city jail transformed into a theme hotel. After a dinner of liver and Roesti (the Swiss national dish, basically thinly sliced potato wedges) and some Swiss sausage we had to get rid of another 100 USD. Time to leave the country, but not without noticing that there
Italy to Zernez
Typical Swiss Landscape
was somebody who did not mind the prices.
As the island that is not, Switzerland also has its very own and, considering the context, unbelievably strange tourist target group. If you will adventure yourself to any major city you can not fail to notice... lots and lots of Chinese group tourists! The Chinese love the country and are willing to spend some extra cash on their Euro-trip for their very own Swiss experience. Especially in smaller cities like Lucerne you might notice that all the souvenir shops employ only Chinese salesmen and have a good 90% of Chinese customers. Every transaction is made in Mandarin and sometimes, I wonder, are the souvenirs also produced in China and sold by Chinese to Chinese in Switzlerand? Adding to the strangeness of the situation and the apparent lack of any kind of Western tourists is the second target group: Indian tourists! An Indian friend of mine explained me once that Indians love Switzerland because many Bollywood movies are being shot there. Precisely, since Cashmere became a more and more unsafe territory, the Swiss Alps were found to be a good substitute for the mountain scenery. I have toured some of the neighboring
countries in the last month, which I might dedicate another entry to. Indian and Chinese tourists are definitely a mainly Swiss phenomenon, while most other segments seem to skip the country because of its obviously high prices and sometimes problematic accessibility issues (the border from my native region to Switzerland even closes due to snow in winter).
Having a special status in terms of almost anything, also Switzerland's tourist attractions are somewhat different. I have myself been born and raised in the alps and have seen plenty of the surrounding territory. Being the only mostly protestant country in the area, Swiss churches tend to be quite different from their Italian, French and Austrian counterparts. Most little villages have beige, pointy towers reaching skywards from one of the countless Swiss hills. The cities and towns are also quite a treat. If you are a fan of the middle ages, Switzerland could be your place of choice. Pretty much any town I have seen looks like dragged straight out of a medieval fairy tale. Steps, gates, archways and narrow passages have not changed since they were built almost 1000 years ago and, running from the rain through the dark streets of
Italy to Zernez
Santa Maria, the first village coming from Italy
Lucerne, me and THH felt more like Robin Hood and Lady Marian trying to escape from the Sheriff of Nottingham than two not-so-careful tourists without umbrella. Particularly interesting are the countless medieval frescoes on many of the buildings which, don't get me wrong, exist also in other places, but not to this extend and to this level of visibility. And then there is the landscape. If you think you know the alps and you have not yet been to Switzerland... think again! Our trainride from Lucerne in the direction of the Tessin and ultimately to Italy was something out of a Tolkien novel. Towering hills and mountain peaks crowned by hanging clouds and mist, lakes of a blue that only Hollywood could produce, crystal-clear waterfalls, medieval villages and countless galleries carved through the rocky mountains. I have seen worse. Much worse. In many places. God knows I have...
So you might ask, was it worth it to spend some extra Dinero for the otherworldly island of Switzerland? I only spent 4 days in the country and I think, for my taste and my wallet, it was enough... although there would be so much more to explore and its a
A local restaurant
sin even talking about a country after only 4 days of visit. Switzerland is amazing in many ways and a plain incredible place in good (anything except the price) and bad (price) terms. My tips, if you want your wallet to survive the trip: book train tickets online in advance, find a way not to spend your whole salary on a dinner (Chinese food maybe?), and try not to think about how much you are spending while looking at the splendid landscape and medieval architecture of the country 😊 From Cambodia to Switzerland, keep on moving folks. TTY soon!
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