Switzerland - too perfect for words

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Europe » Switzerland
May 23rd 2018
Published: May 23rd 2018
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Tuesday, 8 May – Bern

Today was a strike day on the French rail networks but luckily for us, our train was one of 3 that ran that day (out of a usual 8). The ride to Switzerland was smooth and scenic as we shot past French villages, green pastures and pretty woodlands. The architecture morphed from classic French to Swiss chalets and before long we were pulling in to Basel. We collected our half fare cards and were soon on our way to Bern.

Dwayne and I have never been to Bern but I’d heard good things about it and I’m glad we did. As one expects from Switzerland, it’s picture-perfect postcard. The capital city is surrounded by snow-capped mountains and a mesmerising turquoise river that gets its colour from the glacial flour in the mountains. There are many little bridges spanning the River Aare. Like France, it’s super green which only makes the other colours more vibrant as well.

Bern offers tourists a free transport travel card if they book accommodation, so that’s a nice touch. Mind you, for a city tax of CHF 5.70 per person per night ($7.60), we should get something for free! We finished with a dinner of Rosti, a traditional Swiss dish of grated roast potato and toppings. Strangely enough, the wait staff and owners were quite grumpy. We wondered if they were Austrian or Italian because they pretty much ignored us when we didn’t order drinks and mains. It’s quite strange for the Swiss to be so bad at customer service but they certainly didn’t impress.

Wednesday, 9 May – Bern

Bern is named after and known for its bears and uses a bear as its city symbol. Accordingly, there are 3 bears on one side of the river in an enclosure that is free for anyone to visit. That’s where we started our walk. We watched them wander around for a while and like most zoos and enclosures, I felt sad that they weren’t free to roam beyond their borders.

We continued to the river, took off our shoes and walked along a concrete ledge with the frigid water gushing over them at ankle level. It was FREEZING! After taking photos and drying off the tootsies in the sun, we continued along the river. We stopped for lunch and took time to breathe in the scenery before us. We also came across a unique public toilet. It was a big stainless steel funnel with a wide oval top at least 1m in diameter, and a normal toilet hole at the bottom. It had a seat that you had to pull down over part of the funnel and after you had done your business, the seat automatically raised up, the toilet flushed, the water for the hand washing came out a spout over the funnel like a fountain, you pressed a button for soap and once finished, pressed another button for hand drying. All this happened over the gigantic toilet bowl. Very weird!

The intention was to do a free walking tour at 5pm but at 4pm Rose found a wedding dress shop that had prices for 90% off – no joke! The dresses had been reduced from 1200-2000 francs, down to 10-15% of their price. When Dale said there were cheap dresses in the shop, I thought “Yeah right. How cheap is cheap?”. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I was seeing 150CHF ($220) on the dresses. Well, we made a quick change of plans and told the guys to go do the walking tour whilst we tried on dresses because if there was something there that Rose liked, she had to buy it because she’d never get anything that cheap in Australia. Ten dresses and 2hrs later we emerged victorious! Talk about the find of the century. The young attendant was very helpful but the older lady who took our payment – I assume she’s the owner – was a little put out that we wanted to buy something after closing time. Again with the questionable customer service. Is this the new Switzerland? Anyway, forget Thailand, Switzerland is the place to get a cheap wedding dress!

The boys didn’t end up going on a walking tour because they didn’t want to be away from the girls for 3 hours – isn’t that sweet?!

What’s not sweet is that we went to the shops on the way home to collect food for tomorrow, only to discover it’s a public holiday (Ascension Day) so everything shut at 5pm. No signs up to warn us of impending doom. Looks like we’ll be fasting.

Thursday, 10 May – Bern

After a week of glorious sun similar to Paris, the wet weather has caught up with us in Switzerland just in time for our arrival in the mountains. There will be no warmth, no dry weather and no views for the remainder of our time in Switzerland, not unless the Lord works a miracle.

We went into town despite the rain and found a supermarket open on the public holiday. We bought food and went home happy.

Friday, 11 May – Wengen

The rain passed overnight, and we were rewarded with wonderful views for our train trip to Wengen. As we left Bern, the mountains ahead caused people to move from side to side inside the train, trying to get pictures through the windows. Dwayne and I smiled because we knew the views with this weather, only got better.

By the time we arrived in Wengen via the gorgeous Lauterbrunnen valley, our crew was left speechless. I thought Mum was going to cry! Our chalet overlooks Lauterbrunnen from up on top of our little ledge and we all thanked the Lord for a clear afternoon. We decided to do a walk and after a bit of a bungle, we decided on the downhill to Lauterbrunnen. It only took an hour but we stopped frequently to capture the fading light, photograph goats and cows with bells and take stock of what we were seeing, given we didn’t know how long before the rain arrived. We stocked up on groceries in Lauterbrunnen, went home and sat on the balcony to watch the sunset over what can only be described as ridiculous views!

Sabbath, 12 May – Wengen

The Lord provided a miracle! Clear skies right up to the peaks towering above in all their majesty. Not only was the rain nowhere in sight today, but it was a balmy 20C. The others jumped on a train to the Jungfraujoch, whilst we decided to visit the Schiltorn, which we missed when we were here 11 years ago. We rode a cable car to Grutschelp, caught a train along the high plateau to Murren, rode another cable car to Birg and then Schilthorn. Although we could see the peaks when we left, Birg and Schilthorn were clouded in. Schilthorn is where they filmed “In Her Majesty’s Secret Service” with James Bond, so the entire place is 007 themed. There are lifesize cardboard cut outs of George Lazenby, as well as quotes from some of the cast and a loop of the final scene at Schilthorn. The female toilets, aptly named “Bondgirls”, had life sized silhouettes of a bond girl on each door. When you finish and flush the toilet, the theme song starts playing. When you turn the water on to wash the hands, a voice says “Hi, I’m Bond. James Bond.” I must admit it did have me looking around for a creepy toilet actor!

We stayed up there for an hour and the cloud did partially clear for a few minutes but after that we decided to head back down to Birg which was below the cloud at 2600m and I found that more interesting to me than Schiltorn. There is a metal cliff walk sticking out from a cliff face that drops about 100m below which you can do as part of your ticket. They have various surfaces that you can try along the walkway, including a wire tube suspended in air, thick monkey bars, a glass floor and my favourite – a tight rope with a safety net that is suspended parallel to the metal walkway. A lot of the walkers stayed on the metal walkway but a couple of us did all the challenges. That was fun and for my money, Birg was the pick of the spots for both the view and the activity. Of course, by the time we were ready to descend from Birg, Schilthorn was clearly visible. Why is that everything gets better after we leave?!

We descended to Murren and Gimmelwald, stopping to take in the glorious scene before us. Another cable car down to Schtechelberg, some wandering along the valley floor and finally home to Wengen. We sat on the balcony for the next couple of hours, not wanting to move in case the weather changed. It was a blissful Sabbath.

Sunday, 13 May - Wengen

Today was Mother’s Day, as well as Mum and Dad’s anniversary. It was cloudy with light rain around so we slept in and then went to Trummelbach Falls in the early afternoon. This is one waterfall inside a mountain, cascading through 10 levels of “waterfall, pool, waterfall, pool” etc. You have no inkling from the outside or from the small 3m wide river at the bottom that there is a waterfall inside the mountain, but when you step out of the inside funicular – an amazing feat in its own right – you are met with a deafening roar. You have to shout to each other when you want to talk. This waterfall pumps through 22,000 tons of water PER SECOND! It’s Europe’s only waterfall inside a mountain and it’s super impressive.

After Trummelbach we went to Grindelwald as we didn’t see this valley on our last visit. Unfortunately, we didn’t see it on this visit either, thanks to all the low-lying cloud. Oh well, we enjoyed pottering around the town which is larger than Lauterbrunnen, and we had yummy Indian at Mum and Dad’s request so it finished off their anniversary in a memorable way.

Monday, 14 May – Wengen

Expecting another rainy day, we were pleasantly surprised to see a partly sunny, partly cloudy day with he peaks available. We all made hasty plans to get out and sight-see so Mum, Dad, Dale and Rose made a beeline for Murren and Gimmelwald, Dwayne and I went back to Grindelwald in the hope of seeing the peaks that eluded us yesterday.

Our trip to Grindelwald turned out to be a bit of a waste of money, because the clarity of the webcam when we left had been replaced by cloud by the time we arrived an hour later. The cloud level was higher but not enough to show the peaks. We decided to cut our losses and have fondue instead. On the way back to the train station the cloud about the peaks did clear for about 5 minutes and we got a couple of shots of the top 100m of peak above the cloud, but it soon shrouded everything again so we headed for home. It was our night to cook so we made rosti and salad.

One thing that has astounded us all on this trip, is the huge number of Indian groups and families. They are everywhere! Busloads! We don’t remember anywhere in our travels having been so populated with Indians. We’re used to seeing Japanese and Chinese tour groups but I can tell you that at least in Switzerland, Indians now outnumber the Chinese and Japanese together. Mum was speaking to the sales lady buying tickets at the train station today and this Indian man stepped in front of her at the ticket window and started trying to buy a ticket. The Swiss lady kept telling him to stand in line but he wouldn’t have a bar of it. Dad even went and stood next to him just in case he was going to get physical with Mum. Eventually he ran to his train without a ticket. When at the Jungfraujoch, the Lindt attendant had to make an announcement asking everyone to leave who wasn’t making a purchase, because there were multiple groups of Indian families all in the shop when only one of them in the group was actually buying. It’s the same in the supermarkets - 10 people all moving like a swarm amongst the aisles but only the mother is doing the buying. Very frustrating when you’re trying to buy things and they’re hovering and blocking everything.

Tuesday, 15 May – Lucerne

It was forecast to rain again and we worried about getting our luggage up the steep 800m hill to the station but we needn’t had worried because yet again, the day was a mix of drifting cloud and sun. We regrettably said goodbye to our beautiful chalet and as our cogwheel train click-clacked slowly down towards the valley floor, I felt a tinge of sadness at leaving my favourite place the world, not knowing if we’ll ever be back again.

A tinge of soul sadness to leave Switzerland, a tinge of wallet gladness to move to a cheaper country!

The train ride from Wengen to Lucerne might have been pretty but it started pouring with rain after we left Interlaken so we couldn’t see any of the usual peaks due to the cloud. Lake Brienz was very beautiful though. The rain didn’t relent until we arrived in Lucerne.

Wednesday, 16 May – Lucerne

Awoke to the rain that was supposed to arrive whilst we were in Wengen but never did. We were thankful that although it made sightseeing around Lucerne a challenge, it was better to have rain in a town than in a hiking area.

First stop was the famous Chapel Bridge, which is the wooden bridge with all the flower boxes across the river. It was built in 1365 as part of a defence system and is the oldest timber bridge in Europe. Just as we arrived undercover, it started pelting and didn’t let up for nearly an hour. We hung around on the bridge enjoying the dry and appreciating the way the rain jumped off the roof and the shapes it made on the water.

After the rain slowed, we ventured out around the old town, saw the oldest timber bridge in Switzerland, built in 1408 (Spreuerbrucke) and then we ducked into a cafeteria for lunch and some dry time. Eventually we emerged from our warm cave and went to see the Lion of Lucerne. This embedded stone engraving in a rock face is a dedication to the 80 Swiss mercenaries who were executed whilst guarding the Paris Tuileries during the French Revolution, even though the Royal Family had already fled. It’s an impressive carving.

Final stop for the day was walking the old fortification walls of Lucerne. There are nine towers of which 4 are able to be climbed, together with the part of the wall that connects them. One of the towers has a clock that dates back to 1535. The views from the top were great, although there was cloud all around the mountains so we couldn’t see the usual snow-capped peaks. We descended off the wall soon enough and wandered on the little track beside the walls down to the river, where we boarded our local bus and came home for dinner. It was Dale and Rose’s last night before heading home and we ended it in true Swiss style with homemade fondue and apple tart (thanks Dwayne and Mum!).

We all decided that Bern is our preferred town over Lucerne, and in hind sight we should have ditched Lucerne and spent another 3 nights in Wengen. Oh well, we’ve seen a good selection of places – some are a hit, some are a miss. That’s the way it goes when you travel.

Thursday, 17 May – Lucerne

Our party started its slow disintegration process as we farewelled Dale and Rose – a poignant moment due to the fact that another family trip like this is unlikely to happen again.

The weather was again cloudy and rainy so instead of going up Pilatus or Titlis with whiteout views, we decided to do a lake cruise instead. It was such a relaxing way to spend 2 hours quietly cruising around the scenic shoreline, which was dotted with houses on every side. The lake was a deep green and whilst we couldn’t see the snow-capped mountains above the lake, we watched the various cable cars ascend into the mist to the falling snow above.

We finished our time in Lucerne by walking along the lakeshore for a couple of km’s and exploring a different side of the river that hadn’t been explored yesterday. The weather seemed to lift during the afternoon with only spits and spots of water and we’ve heard that it should be clear tomorrow for our departure to Greece via Zurich.

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