We Love Switzerland

We Love Switzerland

Arrival in Lauterbrunnen

We had an uneventful trip from USA, arrived in Zurich right on time and shuffled our way through the airport – picked up luggage and followed the very easy signs to the train station. I had researched the varieties of train passes for months and had decided on the Half Fare Card. Purchasing the cards and determining the correct track (gleis?) was very easy – even with no sleep. Of course the train was on time and we boarded for Berne.

The trip to Berne was fairly short but not very scenic with no mountains in sight. We changed trains with no problems – just walked across the platform to the new train and left five minutes later. I had read about the efficiency of the train system, but it was something I had to experience to really appreciate. Shortly after leaving Berne, we began to see the mountains, Lake Thun and the scenery began to look like I had pictured Switzerland – even more beautiful. We changed trains again in Interlaken. This time, it was down a flight and then up another flight of stairs. By this time, the luggage was feeling very heavy despite the rollers.

Despite the fatigue, the trip from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen was lovely and we were getting more and more excited to finally see the valley. It was a five to seven minute walk through town to our apartment. We stayed in Apartment Stockli that I had found on the Lauterbrunnen website. I have published a review. The apartment was very nice. One bedroom with living room and full kitchen – but the best part was the balcony. It faced Staubach Falls and the valley. We discovered later that we could also see the top of the Jungfrau with clear skies.

Lauterbrunnen and Murren

We settled into our apartment and went for our first grocery shopping trip. Lauterbrunnen has a very small COOP grocery store, but it has all the basics. There is also a cheese shop, bakery and butcher. We got a couple of pieces of Alpcheese at the cheese shop – yummm. Since we were very tired, we ate out that night at the Hotel Oberland restaurant. It had started to rain gently but we still ate on the porch of the restaurant. I had roesti and Dennis had sausage and potatoes of some sort. Tried my first Swiss wine and really liked the Fendant. After dinner we sat on our balcony and watched Staubach Falls until the lights came on. We ended up doing this every night of our stay….

The next morning we slept in and didn’t get to the train station until around 11am. It was very busy with what appeared to be several tour groups. We had not decided what to do that day – ended up riding the gondola to Murren mostly because it was less crowded.

I really didn’t like this first gondola ride – it was very crowded and I was kind of scared being suspended up so high. I adjusted to the gondolas and was riding them like a pro by the time we left. After the gondola, we boarded the train (that was waiting for us) and rode to Murren. It was a clear day and the view of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau was awesome. Clear blue skies with a few wispy clouds – I think I became teary it was so beautiful.

We wandered around Murren, ate lunch outside on a balcony facing the mountains and walked some around Grutschalp – it was everything I had come to Switzerland to experience – only more beautiful!!

Berne

The next morning it was quite cloudy in Lauterbrunnen and the mountains were not visible. TV Channel 1 displays numerous webcams around Switzerland from about 7:30 – 9:30 every morning and nothing in our area looked clear. So we decided to go to Berne for the day.

Again, the train ride was very smooth and easy. When we arrived in Berne, it was sunny so we had escaped the clouds. We used the Rick Steve’s book on Switzerland and specifically the Berne chapter and walked around for most of the day seeing a lot of the sights he mentions in the book. We even saw a Mexican food stand in the Barenplatz square. It didn’t look much like it does in Oklahoma, but it was still Mexican food in Berne…

Berne was quite crowded around the train station, but once we got away from the station the crowds thinned out and it was quite a lovely town. The architecture, flags, fountains and arcades were beautiful. We avoided going to the bear pits – partly because we were tired and partly because I had read so much about how sad the one remaining bear looks in the pit. We ate lunch at the Kornhauskeller outside watching the trams go by.

The unfortunate part of the day was me stepping up a very steep step and pulling a muscle in my left calf. So I limped back to the train station and we went back “home.” The muscle pull definitely limited our walking for the rest of the trip, but it did not dampen my spirits or enjoyment of Switzerland.

Jungfraujoch

Everything was clear the next morning, so it was off to Jungfraujoch. Getting everywhere in the Jungfrau region was so easy from Lauterbrunnen – just walked to the train station and off we went. First train was to Wengen. The view from the train looking back on the valley was wonderful. The train was fairly full on the first leg, but after changing trains in Kleine Shidegg, it was standing room only. I was amazed – again – how efficient the train system is. They give you just enough time to take a WC break between trains since there are none on the trains. We were on one of the newer trains with the TV screens that showed the history of building the tunnel up to the Jungfrau.

The views on the way up were – again – incredible. Glaciers, granite mountains against green grass – and the frequent cow sightings. The sky was clear blue – beautiful. The last 30 minutes in the tunnel went fairly fast with the two stops.

One of the first things we noticed after arriving at Jungfraujoch was the effects of the altitude. I had expected to feel somewhat breathless, but it was much more than that. We both felt kind of nauseous and found that we had to walk very slowly. However, even with the altitude effects – it was glorious at the top. We spent a long time out on the walkway at the level of the train station and outside on the plateau. It was so cool to be walking in snow in August. I took so many pictures of the view – it was kind of embarrassing when I got home and started showing the pictures to friends…

We ate lunch in the cafeteria type restaurant. The selection was fairly limited. We both had Spaghetti Bolognese – it was OK but not great. We were both still feeling the effects of the altitude, so that might have effected our enjoyment of the meal.

On the way back down the mountain, we stopped in Wengen. We walked around the town, shopped a little, and bought some bread. Wengen was lovely. I had read so much about Wengen, I was glad to finally see it. I think I still like Lauterbrunnen better – the people in Wengen seemed to dress more formally and the people in the shops we entered were not as friendly as they were in Lauterbrunnen. Maybe I was just beginning to feel that Lauterbrunnen was home…

If you go to Switzerland – don’t miss a trip to the Jungfraujoch!

Grindlewald

The trip up to First from Grindelwald was one of my favorite trips. We again caught the train in Lauterbrunnen to Zweilutschinen. At this point we were to switch trains and go to Grindelwald. Dennis forgot something on the train and went back to get it. When he was ready to get off again, the train started and off he went… I think I uttered an expletive at this point, but didn’t panic. I assumed that he would figure out that all he needed to do was get off the train at the next stop and come back. This is exactly what he did – and I had time to walk around while I was waiting. The stream that runs between Interlaken and Lauterbrunnen is glacier fed and very white. I took pictures of the stream and had a relaxing 30 minutes waiting for him.

The rest of the trip went without a hitch. The walk through Grindelwald was interesting, but I decided that I was glad we were staying in smaller Lauterbrunnen. Grindelwald was much too crowded with too many tour buses for me. The gondola ride from Grindelwald to First was amazing. We were alone in the six-person gondola, which was very cool. We took lots of pictures and marveled at the views.

At the top we hiked around, watched paragliders and then ate lunch – looking out over the Grindelwald valley. We also took too many pictures of the views. This was one of my favorite days of the trip – despite Dennis getting stuck on the train. We stopped in Grindelwald on the way back and had drinks and a pastry at a tea shop. I think I have seen pictures of this shop in the Slow Travel picture section – so it was neat to see it in person. The pastry was also very good.

Schilthorn

We had planned to do more hiking during our stay in the Jungfrau region, but due to my muscle strain we modified our plans and went to the Schilthorn instead of hiking from Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg. I was very disappointed to not do this hike – but knew that my leg wouldn’t permit it.

The ride to the Schilthorn was very interesting. Taking the Post bus to Stechelberg and then the three gondolas up the mountain was easy and very picturesque. The gondolas were quite crowded and as we went higher toward the Schilthorn, we began to ride through clouds. It was kind of cool at first, but was just the beginning of being in clouds for the day.

Because of the crowds when we arrived at the top, we decided to eat first. We had wanted to do the breakfast buffet, but didn’t make it up the mountain in time. The revolving restaurant is a great idea. You are able to see from every direction while waiting for and eating your meal. Clouds were intermittent during our lunch, but we got a pretty good look from most of the directions as we revolved.

After we ate and went outside, the clouds became more consistent and after about an hour, we gave up and went back down the mountain. We ran into a group of Americans – which had not been a frequent occurrence. One of the men was even from a town near us in Oklahoma.

I had read so much about Gimmelwald that we stopped and wandered around the small town. Very pretty and very few people, but I am not sure I agree with Rick Steves about how wonderful it is … but I did get a few pictures that turned out really well. Back in Stechelberg, we walked over to the picnic area over the stream – again the very white glacier fed stream. It was beautiful and we decided we should come back to Stechelberg and explore further. Unfortunately we never did make it back.

Schynige Platte and Goodbye to Lauterbrunnen

Our last full day in Lauterbrunnen we took the train to Schynige Platte. We really enjoyed the very slow, old train up the mountain and the different views of the Jungrau region. We hiked through the Alpine garden at Schynige Platte and then ate lunch at the restaurant.

We had eaten lunch outside every day we were in the Jungfrau region except the day at the Jungfraujoch and it was wonderful to see all the different views of the region. The food had all been fairly similar – lots of sausage, roesti, cheese dishes and salads. We had spent around 50 CHF every day for lunch. But by eating breakfast and dinner at our apartment, I felt we had done well with money. Most of our money had been spent on riding trains and gondolas, but it had been worth every penny (CHF).

In the late afternoon we did laundry at The Booking Office, which was a 30 second walk from our apartment. We sat outside, me drinking wine and Dennis drinking tea while our clothes washed. We ate dinner at the Hotel Jungfrau and Dennis insisted we try fondue. He liked it – I didn’t. But it seemed right to eat it at least once while in Switzerland.

The next morning we were off on the train to Luzern. The train ride was lovely in some of the areas between Interlaken and Luzern. But we were very sad to be leaving our little “home” in Lauterbrunnen – and especially the view from the balcony that we had enjoyed for a week.

Luzern and Weggis

The train station in Luzern is very large and we had no idea where the car rental agency would be, so I asked at the large TI adjacent to the station. We had to walk about three blocks, but picked up the rental car with a minimum of difficulty. The man at the car rental (Autoeurope but in the Europecar office) gave us easier driving directions than the Via Michelin pages I had printed. We stayed on the “lake” road all the way to Weggis and it was quite easy. However, finding our apartment was a challenge. It was in a residential area with a very narrow road that twisted and turned and would only allow one car at a time. We did find it eventually and it was lovely. Much bigger than the Lauterbrunnen apartment, but not quite as charming. It did have a lovely view of Lake Luzern from the front porch and living room.

By the time we settled in and rested a little from the trip, the grocery store in Weggis was closed. Because it was a Saturday, we ended up driving back into Luzern to the train station to buy groceries. If you need to use the COOP or Migros in the train stations, especially when the other stores are closed, be aware that they are very crowded. We are such spoiled Americans – Dennis could not grasp that the stores really do close early on Saturday and don’t open again until Monday morning.

Driving in Switzerland was extremely easy and because of the location of our apartment in Weggis, I was very glad we had the car. Weggis is a very pretty little town but much bigger than Lauterbrunnen and it took some time to learn our way around. We also missed the convenience of the small Lauterbrunnen.

Driving around Lake Luzern and Bellinzona

On Sunday, our first full day in central Switzerland, we just followed the lake road from Weggis to Fluelen. We stopped several times along the way and got out to view the lake or anything else that caught our interest. We encountered a large festival – I think it was in Brunnen – complete with men with the large bells. We finally ended up in Fluelen, stopped for a very nice lunch of fish and salad and to admire the Ferrari’s. Dennis was so excited because he saw no less than six Ferrari’s in a 24 hour period of time. He even coerced me to take his picture beside one… We went back to Weggis by the highway and saw how quickly we could navigate the area.

The next morning was cloudy and threatening to rain so we decided to make the trip to Bellinzona through the St. Gotthard pass. It was an amazing drive – it was so cool to be going through the original pass through the Alps that was used by the Romans. The views were wonderful. It takes a while to get through the pass, but it was definitely worth the time.

We arrived in Bellinzona for a late lunch. I had pizza and Dennis had lasagna in the old town facing the Chiesa Santa maria delle Grazie church. I tried some of the local Ticino Merlot and liked it a lot. It was nice to hear Italian being spoken and the old town square seemed to be the crossroads for the locals as well as the tourists. We then wandered through the old town and climbed up to Castelgrande – the long, steep route. We both did a lot of huffing and puffing. I definitely recommend going up to the castle by means of the lift but the views of the countryside and the other castles were wonderful.

We traveled back to Weggis by means of the St. Gotthard tunnel. This is also an experience not to be missed. Being in a tunnel for 20 plus minutes is definitely not something you do in the States. It was amazing how they limit the traffic – and how they could engineer such a tunnel in the first place. This was also one of my favorite days of the trip. We love Italy so much, it was nice to get a little taste of it while in Switzerland.

Mt. Rigi and Luzern

We traveled on the gondola and cogtrain up the Rigi Mountain the next morning. It was nice to see the small towns on the way up and the views of the lake and surrounding mountains were amazing. Until we got to the top. Then the clouds began to rise and visibility was limited. We hiked around for a while and finally gave up and went back down the mountain. Had lunch in Weggis at a tea room that had a terrace on the lake. Sorry, but I can’t remember the name – but I think it is the only tea room attached to a bakery that sits along the lake. It was the only reasonably priced place we found in Weggis and the view was awesome.

On Wednesday we took the boat into Luzern for the day. The boat ride was relaxing and the views were lovely. Taking the boat was more convenient than trying to find parking if we had driven. We really enjoyed Luzern, the Chapel Bridge, the painted buildings, the old town and the river. We had lunch at the restaurant of Hotel Schiff. I had fish (again) and Dennis had sausage and potatoes (again). It was quite good but the price was almost 70CHF, so we really noticed the increase in meal prices from the Jungfrau region.

We caught the late afternoon boat back to Weggis, then sat on our front porch watching the sunset. We both were beginning to feel the effects of all our efforts to see as much as we could during our stay in Switzerland.

Kloster Einsiedeln and Goodbye to Weggis

Our last full day in Weggis, we slept in then drove to a Benedictine Abbey at Einsiedeln. We took the scenic route which was beautiful, but a very winding road, very close to the edge of the mountain. Not my favorite thing to do – if I am on the outside next to the drop-off… But it was beautiful.

We finally had to stop for gas in our VW. Dennis was amazed when the bill for the gas was 78CHF – to fill up a compact car. It made us grateful for the gas prices in Oklahoma!!

The Abbey was large and the main church very ornate. On other trips to Europe we have visited many churches. This one seems kind of ‘over the top’ with the baroque style. But it made for a relaxing day with more beautiful views of this amazing country.

We had rented the apartment for a full seven days, but had made the decision to stay only six nights and go to Zurich for our last night in Switzerland. I was anxious that we wouldn’t be able to get to a 10:00am flight from Weggis. This turned out to be a good decision, even though turning in the car and taking the train to Zurich was easy, it took longer than we had estimated.

By this time, we were really feeling the fatigue and were not really sad to say goodbye to our apartment in Weggis. It had been lovely, but we were ready to be going back to the States and home.

Zurich

Friday morning we drove back to Luzern, turned in our car and took the train to Zurich. I realized that I would really miss the train system in Switzerland. Every trip we took was just so easy. I had picked a Rick Steves recommended hotel in Zurich because it was not too expensive and very close to the train station. We stayed at the Hotel Arlette. It was definitely nothing special, but it was adequate and the location was superb. A five to seven minute walk to the train station.

Our afternoon in Zurich went very fast. We walked through the Niederdorf, had lunch at the Swiss Chuchi restaurant. I had my last fish for the trip and Dennis had raclette. We had ordered raclette earlier in the trip, but it had not been served like I had read – with the appliance that melts the cheese at your table. Well, this was what I had expected and Dennis really liked it.

We visited the Fraumunster to see the Chagall windows, walked along the river and then up the Bahnhofstrasse. We were not really fond of the Bahnhofstrasse – way too busy. But we did enjoy the Niederdorf area of Zurich. We were continuing to feel really tired, so returned to the hotel for a nap before dinner. We had planned to walk back through the Niederdorf area after our naps, but we were just too exhausted. We ate dinner at the Commihalle Restaurant near our hotel. It was also a Rick Steves recommendation and was very good Italian food. I would definitely recommend it – and it was nice to have something different than the food we had been eating for the last two weeks. We had considered our lunch that day to be our last Swiss/German meal. We visited the grocery store in the train station to buy our last Swiss chocolate and went to bed.

The trip to the airport the next morning was very easy and quick. The airport was crowded and we had little extra time despite getting to the airport two hours early – no time for last minute shopping. Our long anticipated trip was over.

We definitely loved Switzerland. We have visited Italy (twice), Greece and France. We never thought we would like any country as much as we love Italy, but I think Switzerland comes extremely close for me. Dennis said it was the best vacation we have ever had. We didn’t go to museums, fancy restaurants or do hardly any shopping – maybe doing different things was part of the appeal. But Switzerland is gorgeous, neat, orderly, and easy to navigate by train or car. The people are friendly, the food and wine – and chocolate – are great. We can definitely recommend that anyone visit Switzerland even if your age (like ours) does not allow extensive hiking, you will definitely love it. We will go back…

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