I’ve been a naughty blogger and haven’t posted anything in ages, but it’s not my fault – I was in Switzerland! I’m back from an amazing week in Europe with Eric that included amazing views, trains that traveled on time, delicious food and beer, and lots of laughs.
We are incredibly lucky and have been able to travel out of the country every year for the last 3 years. This trip was to visit our friends Sal and Katie who have been living in Zurich for the last 2 years. Thanks to our previous trips to Cancun and Ireland, we had LOTS of frequent flyer miles and were able to purchase our round-trip tickets for less than $200 each. Not bad! Thanks to super cheap flights and free lodging, we got to splurge on train tickets/food/beer/and a 24 hour jaunt to Como, Italy.
If you don’t feel like reading the day-by-day review of our trip, here are a few fun facts:
1. Grutzi (hello in Swiss-German) and Grazie (thank you in Italian) are fairly similar and confusing and will lead to you saying “hello” instead of “thank you” all the time.
2. Drinking in public is allowed in Switzerland, so finishing your beer on the train ride to dinner is completely acceptable.
3. Passport control is incredibly lax. Our passports were checked during our layover in Frankfurt, Germany and the only other time we took them out during our trip was for our hotel in Italy. Switzerland didn’t bother to look, and neither did Italy when we originally arrived in the country.
4. Playground slides are more slippery in Switzerland and will cause you to go shooting out of them like a cannon.
After a red-eye flight from Boston to Frankfurt, and a connecting flight to Zurich, we arrived in Switzerland at around 9am. Katie was nice enough to pick us up from the airport (which was SUPER nice since we probably weren’t coherent enough to figure out how to get to their apartment by ourselves). After a quick nap and shower, Eric and I walked around Zurich’s lake, had a lovely lunch (described as an Italian fajita by our waiter, but it was really just a delicious, warm wrap), explored the historic part of Zurich, and walked along the Bahnhofstrasse (aka Zurich’s version of Boston’s Newbury Street). We also bumped into the Zurich Classic Car Show and watched them announce the winners. For dinner, we went to Katie and Sal’s favorite spot where you’re given a lightly browned piece of steak and a scalding hot stone… and then proceed to cook your meat to your own liking. Served with fries and special dipping sauces, it was pretty amazing.
We caught an early train to Como, Italy and spent the three hour ride staring out the window, taking pictures, of the beautiful landscapes, mountains, lakes, and small villages. After a stop in Chiasso, Switzerland to purchase tickets to Como and a bizarre walk through the most lax customs experience, we arrived in Italy right in time for lunch. The walk towards Lake Como from the train was easy, we found our hotel without even looking at a map, and I had the most delicious lasagna of my life for lunch. We took the funicular up to Bruncate for amazing views of Italy and Lake Como. We walked around the older part of the city, ate gelato, and stumbled upon the gallery of Mr. Savethewall, a Banksy-like contemporary artist who was very friendly and happily sold me one of his works of art. For dinner, we enjoyed a three-course meal overlooking the water at our hotel’s sister hotel. We ate octopus, beef carpaccio, perch risotto, and veal cutlets. Our waiter Michelangelo took wonderful care of us (even correcting our pronunciation of “Grazie,” helping us pick the most local/regional food options, and giving us free cookies for dessert). Even though I was SO full from food and wine, I still got some gelato for dessert.
The beautiful weather of Thursday disappeared and turned into a cloudy/rainy mess so we enjoyed the hotel’s breakfast and left Como early in the morning. On our way back towards Zurich, we stopped in Luzern. My handy Switzerland guidebook gave us a great recommendation for lunch (the Rathaus Brauerei) and we did the book’s self-guided walking tour with stops at the Crying Lion monument and Chapel Bridge. After more gelato, we headed back to Zurich where we ate everything in Katie and Sal’s apartment (since they were getting ready to move and needed to get rid of everything, not because we’re jerks) and had lots of laughs with them and their friends.
A friend made the very strong suggestion that we go to Gimmelwald in the mountains above the Lauterbrunnen Valley and stay in the Mountain Hostel. Katie and Sal had not yet been to the area, and joined us. On our way, we stopped in Interlocken where we had a bizarre conversation with the Tourist Information representative.
Us: “Hi! We’re headed to Gimmelwald but wanted to check out Interlocken first. Is there anything in particular that you suggest we do here?”
Us: “Oh… so we should just go straight to Gimmelwald?”
Us: “Can we at least have lunch here?”
We found an authentic-looking Swiss restaurant for lunch where Eric and I shared the appetizer combo plate and I had my favorite Swedish Rekorderlig strawberry-lime cider. After lunch, we took a train to Lauterbrunnen, a bus to Stechelberg, and a cable-car up to Gimmelwald. We walked around the village, took a pre-dinner hike up the steep mountain to a great waterfall, ate delicious pizza in the hostel’s restaurant, and went to bed in our “Lovers” bunkbeds after a game of pool. (Note: For those traveling in pairs, the hostel offered 2-person sized bunkbeds so that you could sleep with your partner. A nice touch, even if awkwardly named.)
Rather than hike down to Stechelberg as we had originally planned, the ominous clouds and fog and light rain inspired us to take the cable-car back down instead. On our way back north to Zurich, we stopped in Bern to see the bear pits, eat lunch in a brewery, and walk (hike) up a (very steep) hill to the rose garden for beautiful views of Switzerland’s capital. Back in Zurich, we relaxed and ate leftovers before taking the train just outside of Zurich to Uetliberg for panoramic views of the city and lake on top of a (very scary) tower… and then some Crema Catalana for dessert.
After a 4-mile run, Eric and I ventured to Ebenalp, the northernmost summit of the Appenzell Alps (thanks Wikipedia for that fun fact). We took a cable-car up to the summit, and then hiked down, enjoying the views, visiting the Wildkirchli cave system where monks used to live and pray, and eating a delicious lunch on the side of the mountain in an awesomely placed hotel and restaurant. During lunch, we got to watch a number of people paragliding around us. We also got to interact with the wildlife (including some frisky sheep and lazy cows) and listen to women yodel as they leisurely rowed their boat on the Seealpsee lake. Back in Zurich, we went out for great Asian food with Sal and Katie and were disappointed that they had run out of zimt (cinnamon) ice cream.
For our last day, we traveled about an hour away to Basel, right on the border of both Germany and France. Before heading to the train station, we stopped at Conditorei Schober for chocolate croissants and coffee – a top 25 bakery in the world according to Buzzfeed. In Basel, our first stop was the Basel Synagogue, a massive domed synagogue built in 1868 featuring beautiful stained glass windows. Guarding the synagogue was a dachshund named Alphonso. We then walked a couple blocks over to the Jewish Museum, which was closed. (Note to the Jewish Museum: Why would you be open on Monday – the day ALL other museums are closed – and be closed on Tuesday? Poor planning). We then walked to the Kunstmuseum, passing by an outdoor sculpture by Richard Serra and water fountain by Jean Tinguely. The art museum itself had a pretty good collection of modern and contemporary art, including works by Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Giacommetti, Picasso, Klee, and Chagall. By the time we finished walking around the museum, we were so exhausted that we headed straight to the train station – and completely forgot to go look at the Rheine River. Whoops. For our final night in Zurich, we had dinner across the street from Katie and Sal’s apartment at a Mexican restaurant called Tres Kilos where the food was great and the waiters were… greater (thanks again for those free tequila shots!).
So, if you’ve actually read this whole thing… wow. The trip was everything we hoped for and I can’t wait to go back. Now, time time to start planning the next trip!
Where should we go next? We’ve done Europe the last two years, so South America? I’d love your tips!