During my time interailling last summer I decided to keep a little book to document my adventures; I knew that everything would just end up a blur if I didn’t do this and I’ve finally decided to type these up.
After a week of terrible weather in England I couldn’t wait to get away to ‘sunny Switzerland’, but funnily enough as the day arrived, the sun also decided to make an appearance. At full force. It’s safe to say I was burnt even before boarding the train to Manchester airport, typical! As neurotic as my boyfriend and I both are, we arrived in plenty of time; four hours before our flight to be specific, but soon enough we were on our flight to Geneva with an interail pass, a FairFX pre-paid money card (I definitely recommend), a rucksack, and a hat.
Geneva, and Switzerland in general, is a place of expense. Not so good if you’re on an extremely tight budget and I’m embarrassed to admit that the first meal I had on my month away was a Mcdonalds. Shameful, but it was the only hot food we could afford, and yet it was still the most expensive Mcdonalds I have ever eaten. We mainly stuck to cheap food at Aldi for the subsequent days in the land of lakes. Highlights of Geneva were definately swimming in the lake, seeing the famous Jet De Eau and going to the United Nations. Being a summer month also meant that we managed to catch a talent show in full swing in the English Garden which included a Eurovision-esque singer – not going to lie, she was entertaining, but probably for all the wrong reasons. Geneva in general was beautiful and an all round pleasant experience, although if I was planning my trip again I would probably give it a miss and opt for a cheaper location and more for your money.
It was the early hours of the morning that I officially began my Interail experience. This began with hopping on a double decker train to Bern, Switzerland’s capital city. We only had about 7 hours here and so we left our luggage at the train station and picked up a free tourist map. I recommend picking up as many maps and other free information at tourist information points as you possibly can; they save a ton of money that you may otherwise have spent on guides and books. We managed to fit in the Swiss Houses of Parliament, Munster Cathedral, Zytglogge Clock Tower, a Swiss steel band (which we then found out were not Swiss at all and were actually from Teeside), a dip of the feet in River Aare and a steep walk to the Rose Garden to see a beautiful and peaceful view of the city. What struck me was just how friendly everybody we met were. As we were having a disagreement over directions (this became quite a common theme throughout the month away) a taxi man came and asked if we needed his assistance. I politely said that we wern’t going to be needing a taxi, which he accepted and then proceeded to chat with us for quite a while longer about our travel plans, because he felt like it. It just shows how fast paced England is, where you might never expect to have a casual chat with a taxi driver without him pestering you for a journey or having somewhere to be and money to make.
At the end of the day we got back on the train to Schaffhausen. This began with a steep trek in search of our 16th Century Manor House Hostel which included free breakfast the next morning. Morning made. We sneakily cut off some extras from the breakfast bread loaf to take with us for lunch to make a change from the Aldi crackers and cheese we had been getting far too familiar with. This was also the beginning of our ‘public transport mistakes’… apparently in Switzerland (and the rest of Europe for that matter!) you buy your ticket on a machine which is situated aboard the bus. This is quite disheartening after having spent a large amount of time that morning perfecting my speech for the bus driver, “Ich mochte zwei ruckflug nach neuhausen zentrum”, and also quite embarassing when I couldn’t work out how to use the machine, failing to find the ‘English’ option. Talk about ignorant English!
The highlight, and the entire reason we visited Schaffhausen, was to go and see the Reinefalls; the biggest and most powerful waterfall in Europe. We paid CHF8 (about £5/£6) for a boat ride up to the falls and some time on the ledge, plenty of photo and filming opportunities! We also visted Munot Castle and it’s vinyards, dipped our feet in the Reine (this was fast becoming a ‘must do’ at every lake/river we visted), and beat the boyfriend at table tennis AND foosball back at the hostel. This is quite a popular place to travel due to the falls and Schaffhausen is a very convenient town to stay at close by.
The train to Zurich saw the next part of our ‘public transport mistakes’ where we ended up in first class, on a double decker train where we then couldn’t find the standard class without having to walk through some restaurant and in the process nearly knocking over some woman’s bottle of wine with my bag in the process. When we did find the right carriage there was some drama going on which involved a woman, her dog and a very angry man. To this day I have no idea what the fiasco was about, but it had the whole train in hysterical laughter.
Our time in Zurich saw us dipping our feet in Lake Zurich (tick!), treking to some art gallery which we then discovered would cost CHF20 entry… I definately began to appreciate free museum and gallery entrance fees that we have in England at this point. I also discovered in Zurich the intense level of hate that I have for midges, turns out they like the taste of my blood far too much. We also saw Zurich opera house and Zurich cathedral with a statue of Charlemagne (who I’ve read recently is thought by some German historian to have been fictionalised by Otto the Great… definately worth another blog post!).
Zurich was undoubtedly the most touristy place I visited in Switzerland but it is beautiful and green, just like the rest of the country!
Lucerne was our next, and last Swiss stop. We managed to arrive on the last day of the ‘Blue Balls Festival’ (slightly suspect name…) which had food stalls from around the world, beer tents, and live music. One of the bands playing was a trio from New York called ‘Jukebox the Ghost’ who I absolutely fell in love with (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdUvaIV0t7E). Bought a cheese fondue kit (there’s fondue restaurants all over the place, but we went cheapo). It was so disappointing. Don’t misunderstand, I absolutely adore cheese and everything about it, but this was just plain wrong.
This bridge was built in 1333 and is absolutely stunning:
We got lost trying to find a rock bar so just sat with an icecream by this bridge (and by all the posh restaurants that we were too poor to eat at).
The next day we went on our travels to Mount Pilatus. The Lion Lodge Hostel that we had been staying at was selling decently priced ’round trip’ tickets to the mountain which we got a discount on for having an interail pass. We caught the bus to Kriens around 10am where we then had to walk roughly 10 minutes to a Gondola. It was quite frightening travelling through all the clouds where we then changed into a cable car and arrived at the top. After a day wandering around the mountains we caught a cog-wheel train (the steepest in Europe) back down which had the most amazing view, especially since all the clouds had cleared by this point. Once arriving at Alpnachstad we popped across the road to a boat which would take us back to Lucerne. Our day in the mountains resulted in a hungry belly and sunburn, despite the fact it was barely sunny, although I guess that’s what you get for being 7,000ft above sea level.
Switzerland overall was beautiful and I could not get over how clean it was. The downside was the expense. Whilst there’s beautiful scenery and things to see, there isn’t much else to do without spending alot of money. Also, this isn’t something that I was particularly going for, but more an observation, that there isn’t a whole lot of nightlife in Switzerland, well at least not in the way that the British know it. It’s extremely sophisticated and I think I came to the conclusion that it’s probably far too sophisticated for me. No regrets at all, but if you’re thinking of including Switzerland in tight-budget interail trip perhaps only visit a couple of places for maybe 4 nights as it’ll save a fair bit of cash for cheaper places that you can explore more (we were in Switzerland for 6 days, 7 nights).