Switzerland

DestinationsEuropeFoodSwitzerlandWestern Europe

Into a reversal of seasons

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When Schilthorn remained closed for yet another day, I was rather foolish to hope that the continuous snowfall would when we stepped out of the Berner Oberland into Vaud and Fribourg. Our route was fairly complicated, long but very scenic (I spent lots of time convincing myself during lull periods that it really was the journey and not the destination that mattered) and with the number of train/bus combination and changes to make any programmer blush, it finally looked like this: Murren cable car – Stechelberg via Gimmelwald, Stechelberg – Lauterbrunnen – Interlaken Ost – Zweisimmen – Gstaad – Montreux – Lausanne.

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I’m fairly embarrassed to say that I hardly remember very much of Lausanne itself, having arrived when dusk (and rather heavy rain) was falling except for the steep gradients of the town centre and our incredibly lovely restored 19th century-styled accommodation. Run by seasoned travellers themselves, I thoroughly enjoyed the location and the sheer old-world beauty of the place. The only time we had around Lausanne was a hurried turn around the cobbled and hilly streets when looking for a late dinner and emergency baggage. We had been fairly unhinged by the numerous and lengthy train trips as we moved like nomads for the length of 18 days every 1-2 days, where legitimate ponderings about the nature of travel led to some illegitimate questions about life itself – metaphorical hidden spots in the mind that I’d rather shove aside for now.

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What was more indelibly stamped into my memory was the tailor-made sunny weather of the next day on the determined gastronomic excursion into the higher regions of the Fribourg canton into Gruyères town for the cheese making session and then onto the Cailler chocolate factory in Broc village. The route is less complicated than it really is, particularly when there is a major train office with a sour-looking Swiss-French, English-speaking attendant.

Lausanne – Palezieux – Gruyères/ (with the option of going to Broc via Bulle) Broc Fabrique – Bulle – Palezieux/Lausanne

Gently nudged by the gasp-worthy landscape and the gorgeous weather, it was easy to see TC’s grudging but growing affinity with the Swiss countryside that had done nothing but let him down for the past few days.

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We walked the distance between La Maison du Gruyère and Broc-Fabrique in the valley sprinkled with a strange mixture of autumn and spring colours – from the more earthy tradition of cheese-making into the theatrical dramatics of the Cailler chocolate making tradition, trudging thankfully downhill from the medieval town encircled by the magnificent mountains onto the river bank, turning back ever so often to take pictures whenever we could. That, was enough to sustain our flagging legs, at least for that hour or so walk.

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DestinationsEuropeSwitzerlandWestern Europe

Snowed into the Berner Oberland

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We stepped out of the miserable rain on a Monday morning in Luzern into a heavily snowing Berner Oberland via the Golden Pass route (Luzern – Brünigpass – Interlaken – Zweisimmen – Montreux) – it would have been all that was promised, except for the perpetual low cloud cover and the grey, washed-out landscape.

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Mürren, our final destination, was quite mercifully, the pretty and silent ghost town before it throws open its doors to the skiers and the ski season starting this saturday – our crippling disadvantage however, lies in the sheer lack of options in eating and outdoor activities. On our last evening, we stayed close and dined downstairs, and left ourselves to the mercy of a Swiss-German waiter who spoke half in English.

A Spanish couple came in not too much later and ordered only Rosti, which was only listed as a side on the menu.

“I want only rosti,” the man announced loudly to the waiter.

“Rosti, for me also,” said his companion.

“Rosti, mains, ja?”

“No, just rosti!”

“Rosti, sausage, ja?”

“No, only rosti!”

“Nein? Rosti? Hier, ja?” The poor confused waiter pointed to the mains in the menu.

“No, no, no, no, no!”

“No?”

“Just rosti!” It later led him to apologise after the comedy of errors.

“I’m sorry…Felix…your name?” the Spanish man said earnestly, touching the poor man on the arm, “I just want Rosti, because I am Spanish, and I like Rosti very much. It’s my fault, my English is not good.”

“I…aber Englisch auch..”, bumbled the poor man as he walked to the kitchens, later confusing himself further by talking to us peppered with Spanish terms.

Coming this late into the shoulder season does have its advantageous though; streets are empty and the delayed snowfall that had sent many hoteliers and ski operators into a panic, finally came down in abundance on the day we arrived. It was most unfortunate that our hotel was right at the end of town, 15 minutes from the BLM – the definition of hell with luggage that is not a backpack.

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The natural route from Mürren is a 20 min cable car ride up to Schilthorn but the mountain had been closed for 2 days because of strong winds. The next course of action was to head for Jungfraujoch (touted proudly by all the tourist offices around the villages as the top of Europe) but it was quite a long journey up via Wengen, Kleine Scheidegg in slow trains and several changes along the way. It was literally a snow-out: little visibility, 75km/h winds that hurled snow in the face and tons of people who piled themselves into the train.

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I was cautiously optimistic (but secretly apprehensive that Central Switzerland wouldn’t live up to years of expectation) and now, have surprisingly little to say about Berner Oberland, even though mountain towns have been nothing but quaint. Interlaken and Lauterbrunnen have been incredibly touristy and it was hard to get over the shock of the loud-mouthed tourist hordes that you’d think only afflict high season travel periods.

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DestinationsEuropeSwitzerlandWestern Europe

Yodelling through

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Finally visiting Switzerland after decades of near-libidinous desire of wanting to is turning out to be a long-realised dream – and a nightmare where the budgeting suddenly became the last straw that broke the strings of our purses.

I was introduced to the incredible prices when we took a short stop in Basel to get our Swiss half-card, but ended up spending nearly 40 minutes at the SBB Travel Centre with an enthusiastic salesperson (who was possibly showing exemplary behaviour as Teamcoach) who issued us all of our tickets that we were ever going to need in for the rest of our time in Switzerland. If transport – mostly train – prices were staggering, the cost of lunch in a small Confisserie opposite the central station would have been the primary cause of a clogged artery rather than the sheer amount of cheese and pastry in it. It was also one of those days that was sufficient to send TC into a dizzying tumble of pseudo-philosophical thoughts that mostly deal with earning power, the standard-of-living, and the individual’s capacity for really knowing oneself.

The snowy peaks surrounding Luzern slowly meandered into view as the train wound its way inwards, and its environment is sort of close enough to conjure the infantile Heidi’s milk-cow stereotypes that everyone thinks about at least once in their life but is quite afraid to say aloud. having intended to eschew the extra walking with considerably heavier packs and the stress of packing for another “long-distance” trip, we modified the itinerary just 2 days ago to spend more time in Luzern but in different places for each night. As it would typically turn out, the irony lay in the amount we had to walk from the first place of accommodation to the second hotel: one treats the distance between new and the old town with greater respect when lugging heavy bags on the way.

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Navigating our way with the English language is quite effortless, although I’ll always use the chance to dredge up any remnants of foreign words I can remember. Swiss German however, with its rolls of the tongue and sing-song intonation sounds simply like the process of yodelling on a tenor-alto range even though the Swiss think it’s probably has a most wonderfully musical tone.

There wasn’t much to do after checking in at nearly 4pm on a Saturday afternoon – when stores were about to close but to visit the Museum Sammlung Rosengart Luzern before emerging like foolish open-mouthed peasants onto the magnificent waterfront and the Kapellbridge at twilight. The high street shops in the old town of Luzern were already closed for the weekend and one of my first tasks to do was to obtain some excellent chocolate truffles from the Bachmann Confiserie before foolishly deciding to go for dinner at the Old Swiss House (a rushed check on Tripadvisor convinced us) before really checking the prices out. While the food and service and dining atmosphere were excellent, the entire dinner probably cost us our carefully apportioned dough for half our stay here.

An impulsive decision on a quiet sunday morning the next day at the tourist office meant that either Titlis or Mt Rigi were our options since Mt Pilatus was closed because of bad weather conditions.

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Comprising a combination of boat rides and a funicular up the mountain, Mt Rigi and the beautiful surroundings with Lucerne spread before us would have sent me straight into Heidi heaven – but because I’ve already marvelled too much at the wildness of the Icelandic landscape, visiting Switzerland’s pretty environs felt entirely too prepackaged. There wasn’t much light at times; fog descended on the peaks from time to time, and clear just as we got on the boat heading back. I groaned and grabbed my camera to get the best of the fading light.

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DestinationsEuropeFranceGermanyIcelandItineraryPlanningScandinaviaSwitzerlandWestern Europe

Exhausting defiance

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My travel planning process typically runs across 2 veins: juggling foreign, captivating landscapes from which the instinctive need to explore arises (the heady rush is really quite intoxicating) and the harsh reality of cost-cutting after realising that the reckless planning is potentially busting the humble budget.

It’s a common sensibility that probably fits me squarely into the peg called “budget travel” but the penchant for seeking out strange itineraries such as this upcoming one that crosses that oh-so-fine line into “luxury travel”. I’m also quite certain that the travel companion (TC) – who had initially agreed rather enthusiastically to another jaunt in Europe after my sales pitch – is regretting just how much it is going to cost, as I am too.

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So far, it looks like this: Frankfurt – Iceland – Frankfurt – Strasbourg – Colmar – Freiburg – Basel (maybe) – Luzern – Berner Oberland – Montreux/Lausanne/Geneva. Essentially, a flight out to the near-Arctic, back into the Alsace Bas-Rhin region to explore the “La Route du Vins”, followed by a small dip into Germany’s Black Forest and then onto an ambitious alpine route across Switzerland.

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To be accomplished within 2.5 weeks, I’m anticipating that it’ll be quite a trek.

Working out the itinerary across 4 countries is admittedly daunting, but throw the accommodation and the transportation into the mix, and the sheer number of variables capped by a price ceiling is overwhelming; it leads nowhere except a melodramatic soap-opera that ends with TC’s dystopic vision of eating street food costing only a meagre $2 for the next few months to compensate for the massive drain we’re about to incur.

But witness the craziness of this plan, and then consider the nicely packaged tours that are dime-by-a dozen; I’d insist on the former anytime.

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