My first taste of Switzerland presented itself on the plane from Munich to Bern; looking down on a vast spread of beautiful snowcapped mountains, I was in awe. Certainly this was indicative of the aesthetics I would enjoy in the days to follow.
First on my Swiss itinerary was one day in Bern, which is Switzerland’s capital city. Unfortunately, it rained and rained and rained. Also a sign of things to come… Nonetheless, I set out to explore. I walked along the main street and perused some lovely weekend markets which were set up in the centre. I then joined a free walking tour, which took us around the focal points of this little city.
Bern is set on a river, and is a gorgeous place. The old city’s medieval architecture is largely preserved – much of it from as far back as the 12th century. But it’s fairly small. Even with only one day, I felt as though I was killing time towards the end. I did go and visit Einstein’s house, where he lived from about 1903 for a few years. There was a little museum there which was rather unexceptional.
Late on Saturday afternoon, the Busabout bus arrived, and soon we were bound for Lauterbrunnen in the Swiss Alps. This drive accorded possibly the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen out of a bus window. Picture mountains shrouded in clouds and capped with snow, a shimmering blue/green lake, and little towns dotted through vast green valleys. Unfortunately my photos through the window didn’t turn out, so you’ll have to take my word for it.
Lauterbrunnen is a small town with a population of 2500 people. The single street is peppered with cute cafes and shops. But I would say it’s main purpose is as a gateway to exploring the Swiss Alps. You can take a train or a cable car to many different peaks. You can skydive or paraglide or raft in the rapids. You can hike up to waterfalls and explore tiny towns nestled in the clouds. We stayed at a campsite (in cabins, not actually camping for those who were momentarily impressed) which was surrounded by waterfalls, mountains, and altogether beautiful scenery.
Unfortunately my plans for our two days in Lauterbrunnen were largely dashed by the grey, rainy weather. I had hoped to go up the Jungfrau, which is the highest railway station in Europe. I would have been up on those snowy peaks, but seeing absolutely nothing because of poor visibility. Paragliding was a no-go, and while I could have opted instead to go white water rafting, the cold, miserable weather deterred me from getting into my bathers.
In spite of the weather, I still managed to enjoy my time in Lauterbrunnen. Our Busabout group spent lots of time hanging out and having fun. I drank hot chocolate and ate cheese fondue. Who can really complain about that?
Fortunately, the rain stayed largely at bay when a friend and I ventured to Murren, another town in the Alps. To get there, we took a fernicular type thing, followed by a train. We were literally in the clouds. I could hardly see 20 metres in front of me, and it was freezing. But I decided to stop for some lunch, and when I came out of the restaurant, the cloud had cleared somewhat. The views of the mountains surrounding us were spectacular.
From Murren, we took a cable car back down and visited these incredible glacial waterfalls. Rather than your traditional waterfalls, the Trumellbach falls are set inside a mountain, and made accessible through lit paths and passages. It was very cool and unlike anything I’ve seen before.
On Tuesday morning, I went on the bus to Lucerne. I think this picturesque little city was my favourite place in Switzerland. Set on Lake Lucerne, and against a backdrop of those never tiresome snowcapped mountains, this city would be pretty even if the architecture was ordinary. But the old town is cool, colourful and its architecture endeared it to me even further. Particular highlights were the two old covered bridges.
As soon as I’d got my bearings, I took a boat around the lake, which was nice, although the weather – again – was not. I spent the rest of the afternoon meandering across bridges, wandering through cobble stoned streets, and enjoying the old town squares. After dinner, I found myself again on one of Lucerne’s many bridges. From one side, the sun was setting. On the other side, there was a rainbow. I hardly knew where to look. It really was a beautiful end to a day.
Satisfied I’d seen all the main sights of lovely Lucerne, the next morning (this morning actually – I’m fairly on top of my blogging for the minute) I got on a train to Zurich. They’re less than an hour apart by train. When I got to Zurich, I marvelled for a while at the main train station. Train stations in Europe have everything. This one even had a fresh produce market! I thought that was pretty cool.
It struck me immediately that Zurich is quite similar to Lucerne. It too boasts a storybook old town set alongside a river. Of course, Zurich is far bigger, and perhaps not quite as picturesque as Lucerne. But I really enjoyed checking it out today. I visited a couple of the most famous churches, and again wandered in and out of the narrow cobble stone streets. It has been my first partially sunny day in Switzerland, which I’m sure made a difference to my level of enjoyment.
While the smaller cities were rich in charm, Zurich has an exciting big-city buzz about it. This evening I explored the neighbourhood where I’m staying in search of dinner. I could have picked any cuisine I wanted, and once that was decided, 10 different restaurants serving it. As I walked, people were spilling from bars and pubs into the street and making lots of noise about the soccer. My friend Alli often uses a word which isn’t really a word, but I think it fits what I’m trying to say here. Zurich is vibey! And I like it a lot – perhaps more than I thought I would.
So here I am in Zurich for the night. Tomorrow I fly from here to Budapest, which I’m very much looking forward to. My wallet is also keen for the change – Switzerland is frightfully expensive.
Catch you soon!