Switzerland: where the grass is greener

The price of buying our Swiss travel passes was the first red flag. The second was the cost of accommodation, even that of basic dormitories. The warnings and cautions we received from our friends and families should have been the final straw, but no, we chose to ignore this well intentioned advice. Instead, we planned for 10 glorious days in Switzerland and decided we’d eat grass like the alpine cows if we had to. Clearly the Swiss flag is designed like that for a reason: the red flag serves as a warning and the white cross is a SOS call from those who are there!

Bern 

We arrived in Bern from Strasbourg and were immediately charmed by this modern feeling yet entirely ancient city perched alongside a rather fast flowing crystal blue river. It definitely felt too small to be the capital city of a thoroughly prosperous country!

After dropping our bags at Hotel Glocke (which I highly recommend for both facilities and location) we wasted no time in venturing down to Barengraben – the local bear park. Here we spent our time scouting out the locals: a bear family of three, nestled river side and only a stone throw from the city itself. This was my favourite thing in Bern; we came back to bear spot again before we left.

Walking along the river is a must; it’s incredibly beautiful and it’s fun spotting people swimming, riding with the current downstream. Afterwards we explored the city, stopping to admire the town clock – which after all we’d been told about getting there 4 minutes before the hour, was hilariously underwhelming.

Lucerne

We had two nights in this picturesque spot, about two hours from Bern. Our hostel was a converted prison and although the location was perfect, the heat and lack of ventilation were stifling and half of us came away with bed bugs! Not a souvenir anyone wants.

Our family friends, Robert and Hayley were coincidentally staying down the road. After watching Nadal convincingly beat our boy Fed we headed out to Tibits for dinner, a buffet style, vegetarian restaurant where the cost of your meal depends on the weight of your plate. It was delicious, fresh and healthy, and also reasonably priced (for Swiss food anyway!).

We explored thoroughly by foot, including seeing Lucerne from the walls, seeing the lion carving and crossing the Kapellbrucke. When in Lucerne we also took an amazing day trip up Mt Rigi (which I’ll do a separate blog post for).

Murren

Our darling little Air BnB served as the most convenient base for our time exploring the Bernese Oberland region. We went up the Schilthorn (also a separate post), visited Interlaken and ventured through the Lauterbrunnen Valley.

Murren is so charming and lively, with a really peaceful feeling at night when all the day trippers clear out. From Murren you can walk 40 minutes to Gimmelwald, probably the quaintest village we saw. We found the Honesty Shop: an unmanned store working purely on trust.

Down in the valley, we walked to the Trümmelbach Falls, which are 10 glacial falls inside a mountain and were truly spectacular. Not far from Lauterbrunnen is the Staubbach Falls, which in summer time you can walk behind.

Interlaken was fun: touristy and beautiful – a bit like a smaller Queenstown. We took a boat cruise on Lake Brienz (conveniently covered by our Swiss passes) before catching a train to Grindelwald, which was rather like Arrowtown. It gave us incredible views of the Eiger.

Another fantastic trip we took was the gondola from Wengen to Männlichen and then walked up to the summit. It gave us unreal panoramic views of the Swiss Alps, including the Eiger, Jungfrau and Schilthorn.

Zermatt

Rain, rain, go away, come again another day! Honestly we sang this every day and each day we were in Zermatt it came back. We had patches where it cleared up, but the overhanging fog meant our view of the Matterhorn was continuously impeded.

This wee ski resort village is stunningly beautiful surrounded by magnificent mountains and, on a good day, a direct line of sight to the Matterhorn. We spent a lot of time wrapped up warm, scoring freebies from the Lindt shop and examining the various souvenir stores.

We took a funicular up to Gornergrat Station, where we saw thunder, lightning (very, very frightening) and got pelted in the face by hail stones and more forgivingly, snow. Andy and I chose to hike down from Riffelalp and I’m glad we did because we spotted deer, squirrels and fortunately there was not much rain. The whole place was beautiful, and although expensive, it would be stunning to spend more time here, ideally skiing (and seeing the Matterhorn!)

Chur

Last but not least, this place is actually pronounced ‘kor’ not chur! We got here via the Glacier Express, a 6 hour train journey, with glass windows that allow panoramic views. Chur is the oldest city in Switzerland, it was very small and didn’t take us long at all to get our bearings. We had the most delicious Thai food for dinner and then woke up early for another famous train ride, known as the Bernina Express. Arriving in Tirano signals the end of our time in Switzerland and the beginning of our time in Italy.

We all loved Switzerland. It was like New Zealand in so many ways. It felt clean, safe and beautiful. I know we’re all looking forward to being able to afford eating out once more though!

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