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Trip Report: Part 1 Switzerland

NSW, Australia
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Trip Report: Part 1 Switzerland

This trip, beginning in Switzerland, has been talked about, and planned for, for so long, and with much help from the Trip Advisor forum. I hope my story will, in turn, be a help to those presently planning their own trip, a welcome reminder of wonderful memories for those, like me, whose trip is now behind them, and a special thank you to the DEs ever generous with their informative advice.

My friend, ‘K’ and I, (both fairly fit, female and mid fifties) live in a small coastal town in northern NSW, Australia. Our adventure began with catching the airport train from the Gold Coast to Brisbane’s International terminal.

It was now really on – Switzerland here we come! There was already a queue waiting for the Emirates check in to open, but we had no trouble with our slightly overweight hand luggage (yes they DO weigh it) and plenty of time for a cruise around the duty free shops and a last Aussie sparkling to celebrate the beginning of our adventure!

Loaded on our Emirates flight, all hope of having a spare third seat in our row faded as we watched the plane fill. Sure enough we scored a grumpy weird person; no acknowledgement or small talk from him. In fact getting him to let us out for a bathroom stop became a big issue! The 14+ hr flight to Dubai was massive – and all in the dark. We very much enjoyed the Emirates food and service, though.

After a couple of hours at the huge, modern Dubai airport where we eyed off what we might purchase on the way home – luggage space permitting, we had a Starbucks, Arab style coffee and a comfort stop before boarding our flight for Geneva. I was confronted with my first squat toilet, but K’s cubicle had the ‘ordinary’ style toilet – they cater for everyone!

Boarding was not well announced, but luckily we had checked at the gate quite early – to find everyone going through. At Dubai you are checked in at concourse level and then taken down an escalator to a holding lounge before boarding. Somehow between being checked in and the gate K’s boarding pass stub disappeared and was later found to have jumped into a random side pocket of her bag. All was well, and the boarding pass found while the attendant was still looking for the right card to print off another one for us! If only all our later lost items could be so easily rectified! (You’ll need to read beyond Switzerland for that one!)

Another full flight, but this time thankfully we had successfully pre-booked a pair of seats down the back, in row 46, where the airline body tapers. Exhaustion, and certainly not the comfort of trying to sleep sitting up, allowed us to doze for some of the 7 hour second leg of our trip, watch another movie and enjoy the food and wine service.

We crossed some sandy looking arid areas, with oil fires burning, then snow capped mountain and eventually farming land and built up areas of northern Italy and across Switzerland before a good look at Lake Geneva as a prelude to our landing. Passports processed we proceeded to what we thought would be just the next step in the arrivals procedure, collecting our bag. This successfully achieved, we thankfully remembered to collect our free train ticket from the machine before heading out the ‘Sortie’ and finding that WAS it – we were outside in Switzerland! No customs, no quarantine declarations for food. (why didn’t we bring some of the dinky plane snacks with us!?!)

Still over whelmed with the idea that we were actually here, in Switzerland, we followed signs to the trains and found ourselves on a beautiful regional train, which after a wait to leave, dropped us at the Cornavin or main Geneva station. Despite my months of research, it was unclear how we should exit the station to the Place de Cornavin. Dragging our bags behind us we made an annoyingly erroneous first attempt before retracing our steps and finding our way onto Rue de Lausanne and a couple of blocks along, the street leading to the f6 design hotel in Rue de Ferrier. The receptionist spoke English, but never the less tested my French… but we got booked in, collected our tourist travel cards and were delighted with our room – for a very reasonable price (booked months ago via Bookings.com) It had enough space to separate the twin beds and have our bags open at the same time! We freshened up and re-arranged our day bags ready to set off to explore Geneva - and keep ourselves awake til a reasonable time to go to bed! Now it was my turn for the random mis-laying of the room key. Having both checked all my bags and pockets – twice – it turned up UNDER the bed. Another of life’s little travel mysteries! Jet lag does wonderful things to your brain!?!

Coated up against the light drizzly rain, we set off back past the station, down Rue Des Alpes and via the restaurant we had an internet booking for the following night, then across the Pont de Mont Blanc and a detour left into the Jardin D’Engletaire for a photo op in front of the floral clock. We followed the Lakeside Promenade, including checking out the Rousseau sculpture on its own island like setting in the river, and found our way to Place du Mollard and up the steps into the old town. This was amazing – old but beautiful stone buildings and windy passage ways and little squares. We found the Cathedral (St Peters), the old Hotel de Ville, first home of the UN and a stair case wide enough to ride a horse up (you do have to poke your nose through the door in the wall in order to see it), and wound our way back down the Ramp de Treille to Place de Neuve and back across to the waterfront and ‘home’ via the shopping centre area – left for another day. We found a supermarket for supplies - including the cheapest of wine! By now our jet lagged brains and weary legs were suggesting a night in would be a good idea, so we picked up a pizza d’emporter (takeaway) for an amazingly cheap 13CHF – and enjoyed wine and pizza before crashing out at the appallingly early hour of 8pm – still broad daylight outside.

Next morning we enjoyed a cuppa in our room, having woken up around 6am but still didn’t manage to get to breakfast much before 8am. What a wonderful breakfast … and what a wonderful find the f6 has turned out to be. We enjoyed the fruit, bircher style muesli and yoghurt, boiled egg, French bread, pastries and machine coffee and were well fuelled up for our walk to the United Nations. The distinctive chair sculpture and flag lined front entrance were easily found, but not so the Pregny Gate and visitors entrance. We’d already walked up the hill to the Red Cross headquarters (unfortunately closed for major renovations) and back to fill in time, only to find we had mis-read the sign and the tour entrance was indeed half a km back ..up the hill and opposite the Red Cross HQ! Entry was an easy process, but not everyone gets an ID badge – only the first person in each group. The trick would be go in as individuals, so as to get a souvenir badge. You must however take your passport with you. We had time to reconnoiter the gift shop before our English speaking tour at 10.30am. This started in the new building where we viewed a couple of meeting rooms used by the 193 member countries of the UN General Assembly, particularly in the Human Rights and other areas specific to the Geneva Palais de Nations. We moved on over the connecting air bridge to the old building - more interested in the magnificent snow capped mountain views! Here we saw the Spanish room and main General Assembly room.

After leaving we saw that a number of protests were now set up under ‘The Chair’. On a whim we jumped on a tram at the Nations stop, saving our legs until closer to the lake where we enjoyed a stroll and worked out the mouette boat system. We just had time for a less than brilliant coffee from a Lakeside vendor before hopping on ferry No 3 to Port Noir where we changed to a No 4 back to Chateaubriand at Perle de Lac. What a wonderful way to see the city, the Lake and the water jet close up …and all for free for tourists with the transport tickets you get at your hotel. We made our way back to LIDYL (cheap supermarket) for some french bread to have with our Gruyere cheese for lunch and managed to buy some fake Bailleys as well! Alcohol is very cheap – and available in supermarkets here! We were so glad we brought a fold up shopping bag – its bring your own bags here. (It was useful lots of times on the trip – even back in good old Australia where our duty free shop now charges $1/bag!)

We had a look at Manor, H & M and a number of souvenir shops, purchasing nothing!..but plenty of possibilities. A swiss watch would be nice, but no bargains here! We made our way back over the river and found the Place de Madelaine Markets – basically just one stall near the carousel. Luckily we decided to check out the tower climb at the Cathedral which had already closed for the day when we visited yesterday. The Cathedral itself was magnificent with beautiful stained glass and awesome stone work. However the highlight was the climb (and view) from the top. Not only did the nice man let us pay a few coins short, he also chased us up with our tickets we’d left behind and pointed out the way to go – which once we worked out the turnstyle access, was obvious! The climb itself was a bit spooky, and the green/red indicators didn’t always guarantee no-body was coming down the one person wide spiral stairway, but the view from the top worth any aches and angst. Even the inner structure of the bell tower was amazing to see. Once up high a North or South option became available. Luckily we chose the south option first, leaving the bell tower on the north to last. There is a direct exit down from that tower, without having to go back to where you came up. Every platform gave a wonderful panoramic view in all directions.

We caught another tram back to the Cornavin and tried to work out our Golden Pass train trip for tomorrow…we can only hope it makes more sense in the morning! This left us only just enough time for a quick nibbles and drinks before getting changed and making our way to Le Petit Swiss for a traditional Swiss cheese fondu dinner for 23 CHF each and a glass of ‘open’ (house) wine. We were back home before dark at 8.45 to pack, enjoy a ‘pod’ coffee from the N’Espresso machine in our room and get organised for an early departure. Unfortunately the travel gremlins got into our electronic gear with the computer, camera and e-reader all going flat and the swiss/europe adapter we thought we had proving not to fit. The Swiss power outlets look similar to, but are indeed different to the ‘European’ adapters we had, which worked later in France and on the boat.

(More to come as our adventure moves on to Lucerne, via the Golden Pass)

Terrigal, Australia
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1. Re: Trip Report: Part 1 Switzerland

Loved your TR - just loved it - thank you !

Will be in Switzerland later in the year - look forward to episode 11.

Have a Great Trip!

Martigny...
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for Switzerland
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2. Re: Trip Report: Part 1 Switzerland

Sounds like the start was good! All that advance planning paid off... will be happy to read the next installment!

Anchorage, Alaska
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for Anchorage, Zermatt
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3. Re: Trip Report: Part 1 Switzerland

What a grand adventure! Please don't forget to put hotel reviews on TA - I've noted the f6 for future needs. Looking forward to more Tales of the Two Ladies from Oz!

Garmisch-Partenkirch...
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for Montreux, Oberammergau, Garmisch-Partenkirchen
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4. Re: Trip Report: Part 1 Switzerland

Yes, I'm really enjoying this! I love your attitude -- what a great way to travel and experience the world!

Looking forward to reading more!

s

London
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5. Re: Trip Report: Part 1 Switzerland

Nice report. Looking forward to more.

NSW, Australia
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6. Re: Trip Report: Part 1 Switzerland

(Following on from above…. In Geneva …)

We woke up well before the 6am alarm, and were downstairs soon after 6.30am for another excellent f6 hotel breakfast. Our timing after check out couldn’t have been better. A tram arrived at the ‘Mole’ stop, an easy walk around the corner on Rue de Lausanne just as we did, then at the station we found an earlier train available to Montreux and got ourselves to the right platform, found a live attendant to check whether we needed to validate our Swiss Saver Pass – no – and hopped on board. We had purchased our 4 day rail pass on line, when the two for the price of one shoulder season offer became available. This turned out to be an excellent decision, with the ticket posted to us in Australia, well ahead of our departure. We went on to use it for trains, buses, boats and (Mt Rigi) cog-wheel trains. It also gave us entry to a number of museums & galleries. Alas we did not have time to make the most of this feature.

No room for luggage so we sat our bags on a seat next to us, and enjoyed the smooth ride along the northern side of Lake Geneva, through Lausanne and on to the pretty Lakeside area of Montreux. We were uncertain how the connections required for the Golden Pass would work, but a timetable on the platform helped us work out where the Golden Pass (GP) train to Zweisimmen departed… a funny platform that ended on an angle, joining in to the one we had arrived on. This train was the classic GP version and very cute – but also very small aisles to get our bags through to where there was a luggage storage area. Once settled we loved the journey through spectacular scenery and some little towns, including Rougemont, Saanen and Gstaad to Zweisimmen. Being experts by now at reading the timetables we got ourselves under a tunnel and to the correct platform with plenty of time to spare – in fact we were the first ones and not game to board the Panoramic train sitting there with no staff in sight., Eventually another passenger got on so we settled ourselves, having already sussed out where the best place for luggage was this time. We both traveled with a large bag (with wheels … and at this point anyway, both had handles!) and a smaller ‘cabin bag’ that would sit on top for trundling as well as a handbag. We had to show our Swiss Pass to the conductor on each train, and because this is the ticket control system, there are no barriers at stations – you just walk away from the train into the town. Being Switzerland, everything ran like clockwork and trains arrived and left exactly on time! As many have said, Swiss public transport is brilliant, and a very good choice for touring the country.

Our final change was at Interlaken Ost, for the 2 hour leg via Meringen and a spectacular mountain pass down to the lakeside and into Lucerne. We got a map from the tourist info at the station and set off on a trek up Zentralstrasse and the overpass to the Etap hotel, which we had spotted from the train. It was hard enough work dragging our bags, made even worse when K’s handle finally gave out. Check in was easy and we settled in, with the bargain room better than we feared, but with bunk and see through shower door just as predicted. We both were dying of thirst and a bit agitated after the handle debacle, but got it together for a walk around the town. Our first impression was a bit disappointing – we hadn’t expected such a big bustling city. Just crossing roads was an ordeal. Once we found the water front and we explored the Chapel Bridge things improved. We wandered around the old town streets, including lots of souvenir shops where we bought postcards, and headed back via the Denner store next door for some well-earned nibbles and drinks. Feeling better and changed for dinner we set off not sure where, and checked menus along the way back to the water front area. Bars are the big thing in Lucerne - all full of young people having drinks and snacks….and smoking. We settled on Le Bonne Cavé right next to the Northern side of Chapel Bridge. It too was more of a bar – but served an excellent small steak which was just what we felt like, with a glass of red. The day had much improved, and Lucerne looking better – especially once the lovely waitress pointed out Mt Pilatus that dominates the town, and further off, Mt Rigi which we can see from our room, and where we are going tomorrow!

As no breakfast was included at the Etap, we set off in time to have coffee and a croissant at a café in the railway plaza. Like all things in this a German speaking area, it was not easy, and took us a few goes to find a suitable place, as the first one we found was self serve – and beyond our ability to comprehend with no German. We also bought a yummy scroll pastry thing to take with us for a mid-morning snack. We found the right place for the ferry and boarded in plenty of time for an inside window table. Had we known the service available, we could have had breakfast aboard.

The ferry ride to Vitznau was enthralling with both natural and built environment scenery equally impressive. We were amazed at how built up the lake front was, including Weggis, where the cable car takes off to go up the mountain. At Vitznau we just had to walk across the road to board the red cog wheel train which took us up to Rigi.

We walked to the very top, managing to slip over in the snow that covered the path – luckily no damage done!

The view was just awesome… unexplainable, lump in the throat type stuff. We were so lucky to have a perfectly clear day, allowing us to see not only the numerous lakes and towns spread below but also row after row of Alps in the distance. It seemed we were level with them, but at only 1800m Rigi is really just a shrimp – even though called the Queen of the mountains.

We had a coffee on the verandah of the Rigi Kulm Hotel, and later some hot chips at the snack shop just below, while waiting for the blue cog train for our return journey down a different way to Arth Goldau. A short walk from the terminus got us to the regular SSB station and a regional express train back to Luzern. A wonderful day – but we still had time to walk across the bridge and up to the lion monument. A magnificent piece of rock sculpture – memorial to the Swiss Guards killed in the French Revolution. Right next to it is the Glacier Garden, which we could enter for free with our Swiss Pass. A weird collection of archaeological sink holes, glacier and mountain information…and a hall of mirrors. We’re still not sure how this was connected thematically – but it was a lot of fun, despite bumping our noses numerous times weaving through the maze of mirrored corridors. We took a look at the numerous souvenir shops in this area and headed back towards the river to the twin spired Hofkirche which dominated the skyline in this part of town. It was indeed magnificent – more attractive inside that St Peters in Geneva, with lots of gold decorations. I cheekily sat in an individual prayer seat for a photo. However if anything was to be a religious experience today, it would be the awesomeness of the mountains atop Mt Rigi.

We sussed out the dinner options, settling on Hotel des Alpes, had a final walk across the wooden, covered Chapel Bridge and bought postage stamps at the main P.O. (where you take a ticket and wait for your number to flash up) before giving our legs a rest by catching the bus #4 back home for drinks and nibbles.

The Etap Hotel is a bit of a walk from the station, and the part of town where everything is – although almost at the side of it on the map. However once you work out the bus system it is easily accessed on #4 which leaves from one of the bays in front of the station, and seems to run very frequently. The Etap is very good value – if you are prepared to forego some of the comforts. It still included free wifi – once we got help to get connected, and the room is not much smaller than others. A non see through shower door would make a big difference … and perhaps nicer toilet paper!

Dinner at des Alpes was lovely – pork for me and veal for K in a similar creamy mushroom sauce with noodles and a glass of red. Complementary bread is served with the wine here, which is a nice touch, and helps make just one course enough for us. So a nice dinner in a magic waterfront setting for 60CHF for both of us makes Switzerland not so bad! In fact despite dire warnings about how expensive Europe is … we are starting to think that Australia may be the true claimant to that dubious badge of honour!

With checkout not til a very civilized12:00 we took the chance to catch the bus downtown for breakfast at Manor department store. This was a fantastic deal, with a breakfast tray with fresh orange juice, coffee and 2 types of bread or pastry for 6 CHFeach. There were heaps of other choices, some a bit confusing, so we took the easy ‘tray’ way out.We were happy to eat near a window with good 5th floor views, but later found a rooftop terrace which would have been even better. However, like all places outdoors smokers would have been an issue. Smoking laws are more liberal – and also more annoying everywhere in Europe! We returned to quickly check out and again caught the bus, with our luggage to the station in time for the 10.35 am to Zurich.

(Next Installment – Zurich)

Goldau, Switzerland
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for Lucerne, Zug, Brunnen
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7. Re: Trip Report: Part 1 Switzerland

Thank you Yambagal for your great report. I'm glad to hear you liked Lucerne as I do.

pore

Martigny...
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for Switzerland
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8. Re: Trip Report: Part 1 Switzerland

I only have one comment, aside from being grateful to you for the report!

We have here in Europe a stronger appreciation of individual rights than in some other countries and regions. Part of this affects smoking policies. We believe that if you choose to smoke you should be allowed to do so somewhere in public spaces. That is why we have "fumoirs" where smokers can smoke and also why people can smoke outside. I am a non smoker myself. although I love to eat outside in summer I am more than happy to accept the fact that others have the right to smoke there. So I eat inside, in a smoke free atmosphere, and allow others their "pleasure" of smoking on a terrace...

Hope this helps you understand our laws...

Cheshire
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9. Re: Trip Report: Part 1 Switzerland

Another fantastic installment! You captured Rigi perfectly and it reminded me of my first visit up there alone a few years ago. I found it breathtaking and, I don't mind saying, quite emotional. The sheer natural beauty literally moved me to tears. We now visit as a family whenever in Switzerland and it is a firm favourite for all of us.

NSW, Australia
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10. Re: Trip Report: Part 1 Switzerland

Glad to hear you enjoyed reading - I enjoyed writing about such a wonderful place.

Thanks Hambagahle for explaining re the smoking laws. I guess in Australia we have become more concerned about the health issues regarding even passive smoking, and the rights of the non-smoker not to be exposed to exhaled smoke. It does of course still happen here too - but not so much where people are eating.

I experienced worse - in England outside the palace waiting to see the Changing of the Guard, people in the front sat facing the 6 deep crowd and blew smoke back into them, and then a person behind held camera and cig in one hand to take photos above my head, dripping ash onto me. This is I'm sure all legal - just bad manners!

One more Switzerland installment coming up.