Report - 11 days in Switzerland
We visited Switzerland from 19 July till 30 July. Here is a brief report of our trip.
We left Houston on 19th July and reached Zurich on 20th July around 9 AM. Got our Swiss Pass validated from tourist information office (TI) and left for Lucerne. We are very impressed by the Swiss railways and buses. That is the best way to travel in Switzerland. It was raining and kids were tired, so they slept in the afternoon. I had planned to visit Mt. Rigi in the afternoon (covered by Swiss Pass), but could not do that. Instead, based on Rick Steves' recommendation, I went to Rosengart museum and LOVED it. It has a very good Picasso collection. We saw Lion monument in the evening.
Next day morning, on 21st July, we travelled to Interlaken Ost via Golden Pass train and then to Murren via Lauterbrunnen. Being a summer season, I had made reservations for Golden Pass express but the train was almost empty. (Interestingly I noted that the train website had showed me only 4 seats were available and everything else was booked. A nice marketing trick to encourage tourists to spend money.) Golden Pass is called a train with panoramic view, but the coaches did not have a dome (at least in 2nd class). Personally I liked Alaska train journey (Anchorage to Seward) much better, but Swiss trains are also equally good & they do a good job of marketing for the scenic train journey. I think the route from Zweisimmen to Montreaux is the best on this Golden Pass train.
We reached Murren around 11 am. Murren is a very nice place, a small town, we felt very cozy there. In the afternoon we went for a trip to Schilthorn. Unfortunately, the cable car had mechanical failure and were told that it will take 3-4 days for repairs. So we missed trip to Schilthorn. Instead we did hiking nearby. It was fun and very relaxing. Weather at Murren was cool and very pleasant.
As such we had missed trip to Schilthorn, so we decided to go to Jungfraujoch on 22nd July. However, the weather was cloudy, so we went to Bern for a day trip. I found Bern to be very beautiful, small city. I found it much better than big cities like Zurich or Geneva. From the railway station, we visited Paul Klee Center by taking a bus. We felt that we had wasted our time, although it was free with Swiss Pass. Then we did walking tour as suggested by Rick Steves' book. We saw Bear Park, Clock Tower, Münster (Cathedral), Einstein museam (free with Swiss Pass), enjoying lunch in the cafe sitting by the side of street & walk through old town. We thoroughly enjoyed our day in Bern & I would love to visit Bern again if I ever get a chance.
Next day, we went to Jungfraujoch. Luckily the weather was fantastic. The trip to the top is VERY EXPENSIVE. It cost us 2 adults USD $250 AFTER considering the Swiss Pass discount. (Kids were free due to an on-going promotion). We saw the Ice museum, Observation Tower, enjoyed hot chocolate in the Cafe. The view from top is very good, but definitely NOT WORTH $250. I believe, the tourists tend to pay such ridiculous amount "because we already paid so much money for this trip. Why not pay $250 more?" At least we get a bragging right to say that we have been to "Top of Europe". On our way down, we stopped at Kleine Scheidegg and did a hike down to Wengen. That was simply wonderful and we thouroughly enjoyed it.
On 24th July, we travelled from Interlaken to Montreux by Golden Pass train. We saw Chateau de Chillon at Veytaux. This is very good (allow 2-3 hours at least) and covered by Swiss Pass. Later in the evening, we travelled from Montreux to Lausanne.
How can a trip to Switzerland be complete without tasting Swiss cheese and chocolates? The Chocolate train is CHF 50 per person (even if you have Swiss Pass), so we just decided to take local trains and saved ourselves CHF 200 :) On 25th July, we visited Cheese factory at Gruyere & then Cailler Chocolate Factory at Broc. Yes, they do let you sample free chocolate at the end of the tour. The kids liked both places and had fun. It is worthwhile only if you have young children.
On 26th July, we did a day trip to Geneva. Luckily we had reservation for guided tour at CERN. We enjoyed the trip to CERN and the exhibits there. (allow 2-3 hours) Our guide was very enthusistic and she explained lot of questions rather well. Then we visited Patek Philipe watch musuem. (at least 1-2 hours) It has an excellent collection of watches and a must-see for watch aficionados. We also visited Reformation Wall in the park. Enjoyed cold coffee and ice cream in Place du Bourg-de-Four. We saw Flower Clock and Jet d'Eau alongwith a walk by the lake. We wanted to take the boat ride to Lausanne, but it was 3.5 hour long, so we returned by train.
On 27th July, we left for Zermatt early morning. Zermatt is a touristy place with lots of hotels and much larger number of tourists. We took the Gornergrat train in the afternoon to see the Matterhorn. We had good view of the mountains, but there are hardly any glaciers. Again, I enjoyed the glaciers in Alaska more than I did here, but it was okay. It was getting cloudy, but at least I did manage to get a good photograph of Matterhorn after 40 minutes for my album. :)
On 28th July, we travelled from Zermatt to Lucerne by regular train. The Glacier Express train needs CHF 33 per person mandatory reservation. Since we had done more than enough train journey, we skipped that scenic train journey of 6 hours and came to Lucerne via Bern in half the time. In the afternoon/evening, we did walking tour of Lucerne city. Enjoyed walking by various vendor booths along the lake.
On 29th July we did a day trip to Zurich. We did walking tour as suggested by Rick Steves' book, saw Tower, churches etc. I found Zurich to be like any other big city, nothing special there.
On 30th July, we flew back home.
A few tips:
1. Get a Swiss Pass if it is cost effective in your situation. It is very convenient.
2. Get picnic from Co-op or Manor department store. Otherwise, food in Switzerland is expensive.
3. Carry a water bottle with you.
4. Do not forget sunglasses and sunscreen lotion.
5. Rick Steves' book is very good reference. Suggest that you take it with you.
6. Decide the points of interest you want to see, plot them in Google maps & take a copy with you. It is a lot easy if you need to ask for directions.
Now the other side of the coin: (An over-rated and very expensive tourist destination)
Smokers in Switzerland:
The biggest problem is that the country has lots and lots of smokers, who smoke in public places without regard to their surrounding or fellow travellers. The train stations, tunnels, walkways along the river, even the restrooms are full of smoke. This can be really uncomfortable for non-smokers.
Graffiti in Switzerland:
Other issue is graffiti. Switzerland is a beautiful country, but it is being spoiled by graffiti which can be found almost everywhere; from cities like Zurich, Bern, Lausanne to smaller places like Kleine scheidegg, Bulle. In cities like NY, the graffiti artists have some sense where to show their art. However, in Switzerland almost any wall is good for graffiti. It is an ugly site to see this beautiful country being spoiled in such a callous manner.
VERY Expensive country:
Almost everything in Switzerland is expensive and tiny. Hotel rooms provide just beds & 4 walls, invariably painted in white color. There is no TV (which was okay for us), no phone in the room, no wake-up call, not even an alarm clock. EVERYTHING costs money and lots of it. Want to use toilet at Railway station? It will be 1.5 CHF. Restrooms in restaurants were typically reserved for customers only. The doors had security codes as well. Food is outragously expensive. A dinner for 1 person can be CHF 35 or more. Even a chicken sandwich in McDonalds is CHF 13. You won't find free water fountains anywhere, even at a tourist spot. Be ready with CHF. $$$. A paper bag to carry your stuff from the store will cost you 30 cents. The cheese and chocolate from Swiss is available in my local grocery store at a much cheaper rate than in Switzerland. I could go on and on, but I hope that you got the point.
The attitude of the people & Racism:
The resident people do not smile or talk much, may be they are a bit reserved by nature. You can safely assume that the smiling person is a tourist. Natives are not rude, they do help if asked for directions etc, but they are not friendly either, unlike in America. The locals are not very keen on helping any tourists and I had a vague impression that in fact they consider tourists as a nuisance.
At a railway restaurant near Kleine Scheidegg, we ordered kid size Pasta for our daughter. The waiter (Name is Michal) presented the bill EVEN BEFORE the food arrived. When I pointed that he had charged for adult pasta plate, I was expecting at least a sorry face. Instead of that, the waiter was upset with me. He started saying that "Now He will have to pay for the mistake from his paycheck, What is such a big deal for CHF 8 etc. etc". I thought this might be an isolated case of an unhappy worker. But I had similar experience in several other places. Angel's bar opposite Montreaux railway station was the worst. In general, the people are happy to accept money, but the customer service is a lot to be desired (at least when compared to what we are used to in the USA).
I experienced a blatant case of racism near Castle bridge in Lucerne. A one-eyed musician (or begger?) was playing some music there with his hat in front of him, asking for donations. He was playing good music and in order to appreciate it, I stepped ahead to put a few coins in his hat. As soon as he saw a brown-skinned person trying to give money (I am originally from India, so obvoiusly not a white person), he literally picked up his hat and waved at me asking me to GO AWAY. I was stunned for a minute as I have NEVER experienced such a thing anywhere in USA or Canada or South America where I have travelled extensively (but this is my first trip to Europe). Again, somebody may argue that this is an isolated case, BUT all these "small incidences" in Switzerland have told me a story.
No doubt, Switzerland is a beautiful country and definitely worth a visit if you are going there for business (= someone else paying for the trip), then it is good. Your experience may be different or may be I am overly sensitive or I am too much used-to american lifestyle, but I strongly feel that there are equally beautiful places elsewhere e.g. Banff & Jasper national park in Canada or Panoramic train in Alaska which you will enjoy equally well, but "at a much lesser cost". Travelling is fun, it gives you different perspective in life, but the more I see such places like Switzerland, the more I like USA.