Monday, June 22, 2015

Scenic Switzerland - 2015

Suggestions and Observations

  • Switzerland may be a neutral party for the wars happened, but the Swiss people don’t keep quiet if they see something that they are not happy with.  I learnt this, when I got an advise from a stranger in the train - please read my blog to learn about it.
  • Get used to the high prices of everything, from train tickets to pizza.  The reason is that the people get paid reasonably well.
  • There are a lot of options regarding the train passes and I was confused with the choices.  If money is not a primary concern or you are traveling solo (or two people and planning to cover a lot in a short period), you should get the train passes because it the best transportation system I have ever seen - the trains, buses and the boats are very well connected.  The information counters in each station will provide you the plan for the day if you ask for advise.  You can’t beat the convenience with the trains/buses/boats here.  
  • The road system is pretty awesome, so driving shouldn’t be a concern when the weather is good.  It’ll be economical to rent a car if you are traveling in a group of three or more.  It depends on the number of places you want to go and trips you want to take, so do the math before deciding to buy the train pass.  
  • The hotel prices are pretty steep during the season in the main touristy areas, one thing that you could do to cut down the hotel costs (if you want and if you have the train pass or your own vehicle) is to book the hotel in small cities closer to the place where you want to visit with good bus or train or boat transport.  As indicated earlier, the transportation is awesome and won’t take you much time to get from one place to other and more than that you may love staying the small towns more than the big cities.
  • When booking the hotels, consider whether breakfast provided or not and consider the cost.  Good breakfast costs about $15/person minimum.
  • The shops close at 6pm every day and closed on Sundays, so plan accordingly.  The shops at the train/bus stations are normally open on Sundays and late evenings.
  • Always, make sure that the immigration official stamps your passport while leaving or entering the country.  My passport was not stamped when I was exiting Rome and got into trouble
  • The dolls performance at the clock tower in Bern is good given the number of years it’s been performing, but it is not really worth making all the changes to your travel schedule just for that.  If you happen to be in Bern for this, go for it.
  • Switzerland is different from Japan, where you stand in one place in Japan for more than 2 minutes with a map, someone will approach you and ask you whether you need any assistance.  Nothing that sort of happened in Switzerland.  Another thing that we noticed was that there’re a lot of Indian tourists in Switzerland more than any other  nationality and talking to a few of them, most of them are from India (not Indians living somewhere).  Guessing that the Bollywood movies have a great impact on the tourism.
  • We didn't find many Africans or other non-white people in Lucern or in Lauterbrunnen or in Bern but Basel is more cosmopolitan. 

Stories on the way to Geneva

My trip to Switzerland started badly when my flight to Abu Dhabi got delayed by 5 hours and me missing the connecting flight.  The way Etihad airlines handled the whole rerouting was terrible but worked any way.

There’s a guy who was going for honeymoon to somewhere Europe and he was fighting with the airline agents to get another flight to get on time to go to Abu Dhabi because he didn’t want to waste a day waiting in the airport.  The whole fight or argument was fun to watch…felt sorry for the desperate guy :-(

I had long lay overs in Abu Dhabi and in Rome.  Abu Dhabi had better places to hangout than in Rome.  Met a white lady with a typical yellow color bag from Thiruvannamali (close to my native place) and started talking to her in the Abu Dhabi airport lounge.  She has been going to Thiruvannamalai for the last six years and almost every time she spends about 4-6 months.  She is into yoga and meditation but I don’t find a lot of centers for these in

Thiruvannamalai, so asked her why Thiruvannamalai, the reason she told me was eye opening.  She mentioned that she had been to a number of temples in south india but when came to Thiruvannamalai she could feel much more in peace and she feels that it’s her home.  She is not a follower of any of the hundred swamis in Thiruvannamali but she just stays in Thiruvannamali to go to the temple and to the Ramana Ashram.  She couldn’t explain why she feels that way but it works, so she keeps coming.  We talked about Ramana and other related things about the place before I left for my flight to Rome.

When I was going through the immigration, the immigration officer just looked at my passport and handed over it to me without stamping and I was thinking that it’ll be stamped when I leave but it was not.  It caused a minor problem for me in the Bern airport.  

Getting Shocked at Geneva

After joining my daughters who were waiting near the arrival gate in Geneva, we went for dinner and got shocked at the prices in McDonalds as well as in other restaurants.  Then came another shock when I paid for the 4 day train pass (even though i knew the amount, paying time it hurts) and left for Lucerne.  It was cloudy and cold when we arrived in Lucerne and no information center was open because it’s 7pm, but the people are very helpful when you approach them.


We walked along Reuss river to reach our hotel which is located on the river bank and it was really beautiful.  We left the hotel around 830pm for dinner and by that time most of the places closed - may be because it’s not the season.  We had dinner in an Indian place before started to walk around the old city in the rain, luckily we had borrowed umbrellas from the hotel.  The whole town quieted down by

10pm and we were thinking what to do the next day because it’s going to rain for the next 2 days.


The original plan was to go to Mt. Rigi in the morning but it was raining, so changed the plan to go to Bern which is about an hour train ride.  Bern is a beautiful city, we waited in the rain to see the performance of the dolls in the clock tower and it is short & sweet.  The music show didn’t last for more than 30 seconds.  A lot of shopping in Bern and Issac Newton’s museum in the main area that

you could visit.  It’s raining all the time when we were in Bern (about half a day) and it was cold, we followed the walking tour in the map before getting back to Lucerne.   It is nice to see the beautiful houses in Bern with a garden growing on their roof.  Since
the train pass provides the free admission to the Lucerne Art museum and it was raining, we wanted to spend some time there.  I am not art enthusiast, but I enjoyed the art work displayed there.  There was break in the non-stop showers, so we decided to go to Mt. Regi after getting something to eat in the close by bakery.  We took the boat near the train station to Vitzanu and then rack railway to Rigi.  Given the cloudy conditions we couldn’t really enjoy the surrounding mountains from boat but tried to use a little imagination.  Number of tourists going up to Mt. Rigi was very few at that time, so we had the train for ourselves.  It was cold and snowy at the top, all of the places were closed so nothing much to do.  

Swiss Drama and Free Advise

We took the cable car back to Kräbel station, that’s where the Swiss drama unfolded.  My daughters arrived from Las Angeles, so they had their jet lag and Shabina was hit with it more than Sharada.  She was sleeping whenever she was traveling and I was doing my best (worst!!) to keep her awake by irritating her by putting paper in her mouth or nose as well as doing all kinds of things to keep her from sleeping.  While this was going on in the cable car to Kräbel, a Swiss guy, who was sitting in the cable car, walked to me asked me how old I am.  I initially thought that he’s enjoying my playfulness(!) and appreciating my youthfulness(!), but before I answered, he advised me to behave mature and not to irritate Shabina.  I told him that I was trying to keep her awake and he went back to the seat.  Me getting advise from a stranger made my daughters really happy and that happiness kept Shabina awake the rest of the trip.   

In most parts of the world, people would have ignored when someone was irritating or bugging someone but what I heard and experienced was that the Swiss people will openly voice their concern if they are not happy with what they say.

Walking on the Wall

After walking around the town for an hour and having dinner, we got back to the room to rest, hoping that the weather would be better tomorrow.  There was no rain the next day but it was still cloudy so we walked on the Old City walls to climb on one of the towers before going to the Lion monument.  It was noon then, still no sign of the sun god, so we decided to skip the plan of going to Mt. Titlis and decided to head out to Lauterbrunnen where we were planning to spend the next two nights. The trip to Lauterbrunnen was so beautiful with lakes and many mountains, and you could appreciate the Swiss engineering at work in many marvelous bridges and tunnels.  

Nature Wonderland - Lauterbrunnen 

Lauterbrunnen is a very beautiful little town with so many beautiful waterfalls.
There’re a number of hikes that you could do in that area but the trails are still covered with snow.  We took the train to Grutschalp and started to hike towards Murren. The path was wet but free of snow for about 45 minutes and after that it was slushy.  Sharada and I had good shoes, but Shabina didn’t have good shoes but without crying much she was able to make it to Murren.  It’s was beautiful hike with nice views.  The infrastructure that Swiss put together was really amazing - there’re a few houses in the mountain that are located far away from each other where people could drive from Lauterbrunnen.  Murren is a small quiet village where everything was closed by the time we arrived there.  Took cable car and bus to get back to Lauterbrunnen for dinner.

Dinner with Strangers 

There was an american family from Minnesota sitting next to us in the restaurant where we were having dinner.  I started the conversation with them about where they have been and how the driving around Switzerland was.  Becky, the mom, indicated that the trip was for their daughter getting into residency and she talked very proudly of her (rightfully) how she never got any Bs in her pre-medical except in only one class and how spent a year after pre-med volunteering teaching elementary school children.  We exchanged our travel stories and family backgrounds, and the mom took extra interest in advising Sharada and Shabina about staying focused when in school and boy friends - may be looking at my face she must have thought that someone more responsible needs to advise them.  One of the nicest families we ever met in any of our trips and we talked for quiet while about how bad the the Swiss food is, driving around in Europe, what to concentrate in school and various other topics.  When the sun finally showed up in the evening, the view of the mountains around Lauterbrunnen and water falls was magical.


We were staying in the Valley Hostel in Lauterbrunnen which is a nice & clean place to stay and it is one of the where I saw a number of tour groups put their people in.  The Hostel manager advised me
not to go to Jungfraujoch because it may be cloudy and when you are on the very top you are going to look down so the views may not be good, and advised me to leave early to Schilthorn.  We decided to pickup breakfast in the train station because the breakfast at the host was about $8 for a glass of juice and two slices of break.  
After picking up some breakfast and snacks, we headed to Schilthorn and the view from the cable car was mind blowing.  We really got lucked out today with the beautiful sunny weather and there’s no clouds.  The place where the staging areas for the cable car is built is another show case of Swiss engineering and also we saw a bunch of wooden structures built to

prevent the avalanches that I have never seen anywhere.  Spent a lot of time in Schilthorn enjoying the views of different peaks until the clouds started to move in and then we left to spend some time in Birg.  Standing on the glass platform was pretty awesome and scary.  

Chinese Food at Interlaken

We came down to Lauterbrunnen a little after 2pm and since none of the restaurants were open because it’s Sunday, we decided to go to Interlaken for lunch and from there we wanted to take a ferry on the lake Thunersse.  Train ride to Interlaken was nice and the city is a medium size town.  The restaurants closer to the train station were closed but we walked around the town to find a
Chinese restaurant that’s willing to serve lunch to us but the food was really bad.   By the time we were ready to leave, it was too late to go on the boat because I had to attend a call related to work :-(  So we decided to get back to Lauterbrunnen after getting something to cook for dinner.  What’s an hostel experience without cooking anything there !!

Visit to Wenger

We walked around the city of Lauterbrunnen and took the train to go to the close by village, Wenger.  That village was completely empty and all of the shops were closed, so we walked around, taking a few snaps (beautiful view of the Lauterbrunnen from there) before coming back to the hostel.  Shabina cooked the pasta, Sharada washed the dishes and I did the final cleanup, and we finished our Switzerland vacation with a local wine.

Short stop @Basel

The next day, we got the breakfast near the train station before going to Interlaken to take the ferry ride in the lake Thunersse.  It was a beautiful sunny day and the ferry ride was well worth the time - we could see the beautiful villages along the lake.  We got our train to Basel from Thun around 2pm and spent about 2 hours in Basel walking around seeing  MünsterPfalz, Marktplatz and Rathaus.  The water in the Rhine river was so forceful, they have to operate like a cable boat by attaching the boat to a overhead cable to go from one bank to the other.  We liked Basel better than Bern, may be because of the weather and a number of places we explored in the short amount of time.  The lunch at a Turkish place in Basel was good and Shabina could converse with Turkish with those guys there.  Took a bus to the main bus station to catch the airport bus which was quick and easy.  Basel airport was small so dropping off the bags and going for the immigration was quick.  

Appreciation From the Turkish Lady

On the way to the immigration counter, we had to go through the security check where we watched a guy refused to put his passport through the x-ray scanner and insisted on carrying with him.  The security guard had to call her supervisor to handle him.  After the security, we saw an old lady trying to carry too much and she asked us to help her to carry a bag.  While walking with her, she indicated that she’s going to Istanbul, Shabina started having conversation with Turkish and the old lady was so happy to talk to Shabina in Turkish.  Being able to converse in many languages completely change your travel experience.  The immigration guy was asking why there’s no stamp for Rome exit but he let me know after giving me the advise to check on the immigration stamp all the time.  When we left the old lady near her gate, she asked us to wait and she offered a homemade naan kind of a bread and she insisted that we had to take it - very nice gesture.

Summary and What I would do different

  • Switzerland is one of the most beautiful places to visit for the natural lovers.  I would love to come and spend a lot of time in Lauterbrunnen.
  • If I visit next time, I will come after July when the weather is better so that I can camp and hike.  If I come alone, I will take the train, bring my camping gear and cooking supplies.
  • The Swiss fondue was good but you can’t eat it everyday.  For vegetarians, they have very less options.
  • If you ski or snowboard, this is the place you have to ski at least once in your lifetime

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