Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Swiss get to see me

I am pretty sure they were quite happy about it too. Why wouldn't they be when I contributed about £1000 to the Swiss economy.

To give you some background, I was in Switzerland for the Easter weekend and the four day trip is the most expensive vacation I've ever had and am sure it will retain its position for some time to come. Now that I've established that a view of the Swiss Alps is not for those whose wallets are on diet, let's move on to talk about things that you can't really put a price on.

Day 1

I spent two weekends planning meticulously for this four day trip. Thanks to major delays to our flight, our Day 1 was reduced to a train travel from Zurich airport to our hotel in Interlaken.

Travelling in a Swiss train is an experience. The rail network is well connected and the entire system runs like a freshly oiled engine. Trains are punctual to the second - please note that I am NOT exaggerating.

If you think that being late by a minute or two wouldn't matter, my dear friend, you will meet your match in this country.

View from the bus-stop

Train travel is comfortable, but doesn't come cheap. Most trains come with large windows which let you have a good view of the picture perfect landscape that this country is blessed with. Don't bother to take a book with you to Switzerland, my bet is that, you might never even open it.

Day 2

We stayed in a hotel in Interlaken so that we would have good access to the famous Alps and also, we wouldn't be more than 2 hours away from the other places of interest. But then, you are never too far from the Alps at any place in Switzerland.

The hotel we stayed in was one of the best kept of its kind I've lived in. The Swiss enjoy very high quality of life, and it reflects in their hotels. Rooms are spacious, good amenities, reasonably priced, spotlessly clean - makes you feel right at home.

Day 2 was spent exploring snow covered Murren, Schilthorn peak, the revolving restaurant - which has been venue to a 007 movie (On her Majesty's Secret Service) and lots of travel in mountain trains and cable cars that give you the best view possible of the Swiss Alps and the Ski trails that dot the area.

Murren is a small village on the way to the Schilthorn peak. At the time of our visit it was covered in a feet of snow - it could have easily been the set for The Chronicles of Narnia, the movie. And for someone who was getting to meet Mr. Snow for the first time, this day was easily the highlight of the trip.

Snow clad Murren

Supposedly the population in this village is only 400, but has 5000 hotel beds! There are snow machines all over the place to ensure that it's always a good time to ski. Talk about milking tourism.

Swiss Alps

Schilthorn, part of the Bernese Alps, is around 9700ft high. Not too far lay the more popular Jungfrau. To get to Schilthorn from Interlaken, you have to take a train ride up the mountain and a short walk in Murren and a series of cable car rides to the peak.

007.....

The attraction at Schilthorn peak is the revolving restaurant, Piz Gloria. Though the food here isn't something to write about, the view is. The restaurant does a full 360 degrees rotation in an hour, perfect to have your lunch and view the Swiss Alps. When you realise that the only other alternative is to walk around in -10 degrees to get the same view, you would appreciate the warm innards of this restaurant.

The evening was spent exploring the Interlaken promenade. Swiss knives, cheese, watches, and the Swiss bells (made famous by DDLJ) were everywhere as expected. So were the cows. Not the real ones, but small figurines and strange art involving cows. We even saw a park in the middle of the city area, which had a sign that had a cow on it saying "Access for me only". Not very surprising, considering that they have to keep their cows happy to produce all those melt-in-your-mouth chocolates. But strangely, we didn't spot a single real life cow.

Who threw the cow into the wall?


Day 3

I occassionally remind myself and others around me that I am not as smart as I seem by doing something very foolish. I pulled a couple of these in this trip. The one that I regret the most was planning to visit Bern on our Day 3, which fell on the Easter Sunday.

Not only was it cold, but the entire city was shut down. We were there to see the museums, the huge gallery of shops, the restaurants - basically the works. But everything that would have been fun had a board 'closed' on it. It felt like walking in a ghost town.

Thankfully, the public transport was available and we took our own sweet time in travelling around. The tourist centre was open too ( I wonder why, considering that everything else was closed) and we got see a special effects video presentation of the history of Bern.

Bern

A steep climb to Rose garden to get a panoramic view of the Bern skyline was the only other highlight.

Ogre fountain

Oh yeah, the city had some weird fountains too. One of them was of an ogre carrying some human babies in a sack and snacking on them whenever he felt like.

Clock tower

And there was this huge colourful clock which put up a big show whenever an hour passed by. Apparently, the clock is a very sophisticated one, which could tell one the day of the week, the position of planets and the sign of zodiac. A good idea for a science project maybe, but on a clock, really? Heard of KISS? I should probably shut up, considering that Swiss clocks and watches are considered almost sacred.

Day 4

The last day was a lazy day which we spent on the Golden Pass Line panoramic train. A must do on a Swiss trip, the panoramic train routes are quite scenic and once again, you would just forget about that book in your bag.

Golden Pass Panoramic train

We were supposed to explore Zurich before heading back to London. But heavy snowfall and I-am-sick-darling spouse confined us to Zurich airport for an additional couple of hours.

If you are planning to take a trip to Switzerland, some pointers for you

- It is expensive, if I haven't made it clear before. A rough break-up of our expenses (2 persons): Air tickets £220, Accommodation 3 nights £150, Swiss Rail Pass First class upgrade £220, Mountain travel £100, Food, chocolate, souvenirs £250. Expect the prices to go north in the summer.

- Food is more expensive than in London. Veggies are ignored and would be left with no option but to stick to break and/or cheese sandwich and/or soup. Good news is that their bread is to die for. I have to warn you, if you are a lacto-ovo-vegetarian like I am, and you order for scrambled eggs desiring to eat something other than bread and cheese, your scrambled eggs might arrive socialising intimately with some bacon strips. You have been warned.

- While we on the topic of food, Cheese fondue is expensive, but worth the money.

- Rail travel is quite expensive too, but definitely worth it considering the ease of travel. Double-decker buses are no big deal, but the Swiss have double-decker trains too. And most trains have private rooms which you can use if you have a First class ticket.

- There are no ticket barriers like in London, but there are ticket inspectors in every train who make sure that you don't get a free ride in their trains.

- Buses are not too frequent in Interlaken, but they are punctual to the second too. And again, not exaggerating. I wonder how they do it.

- This is not really a tip, but a general wondering. If you ignore the obese tourists, almost all Swiss people are quite fit. I wonder how they do that too! With all the cheese and wine and chocolate that goes inside them!

- Language could be a problem if you can't fork out basic German. It'll be useful to carry a German-English dictionary or memorise some phrases. Most hotel managers and train inspectors would be able to manage some English, but if you ask the waitress for some sugar, make sure that you taste it before adding the salt to your coffee.

- If you are a movie buff, like my hubby, and somehow convinced your spouse that a vacation without a movie is like a coffee with salt, you might be left disappointed. Most movies are dubbed in German.

- The Swiss are quite efficient and friendly, but somehow are also reserved. our hotel manager was this middle-aged guy who was quite helpful and friendly, but never smiled, even when we flashed our best smiles to him. My hubby and I had a bet going to find out which one of us would be able to get him to lighten up. I tried my PJs, tried some praise - nothing worked. And no one won the bet. Same happened with bus drivers, shop vendors etc. Friendly but aloof. Go figure the Swiss!

- Make sure to visit the Switzerland Travel centre for some free consultation to plan your holiday. They have an office in Central London. You can book package tours and buy the Swiss Rail Pass in advance from them.

If you read this entire post, you deserve to see some more pics.

17 comments:

rakuboy said...

just finished with the pics at Flickr.. and WOW!! Swtzrlnd sure is amazing...

Niths said...

Thank you dear!! I'm all set for my trip in May now! :)

Anonymous said...

Wow is all I can open my mouth to say :p :) Switz is all that everyone say it is, isn't it?

Rinchen said...

Wow. I'm sure you guys had a fabulous time! I liked the pic of the cow stuck through the wall very much :)

P.S said...

Hey Good blog u have here.
And thanks for the free insight of Swiss !! I would like to take forward
the bet for lightening up a Swiss ;)

Girl With Big Eyes said...

Rakuboy,
It sure is :)

Niths,
You are welcome dear.

Anon,
It is and then some more.

Rinch,
I liked that pic too. Here you are walking peacefully down that road and suddenly this cow is in your face :)
You just can't ignore it.

P.S.,
Thanks. Let me know if you had any success in getting the Swiss to smile!

P.S said...

Sure will. When i will be in Switz !! ;)

Ajith said...

Europe fascinates me :)..Got to visit these places one day :)

raj said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
raj said...

awesome place!!...will add put it on my radar for now! :)

Shanks_P said...

Followed up to the flicker ...wonderful snaps ....

Girl With Big Eyes said...

@Ajith,@Raj,
Absolutely.

@Shanks_P,
Thanks to my Canon!

Nikhil Narayanan said...

Oh superb !
Canon EOS rules :-)

Nice shots :)

PS: Snapshots that you installed is irritating da

Girl With Big Eyes said...

Oh yes it does. Canon is the best! :)

Irritating, I found it quite useful - you get a preview and you can decide whether to click or not!

Nikhil Narayanan said...

Oh, that ways.
Whenever I move the cursor over some words, dang! it pops up!

So, I commented.

Ms.N said...

lovely photos... and ye, canon's the best!!!

Girl With Big Eyes said...

Tx Ms. N