Of swiss cheese, trains and people
The first thing you should do before starting this article should be finding a playlist of Moby on youtube and clicking on it. Done? That was the playlist on my ipod while I watched Switzerland go by through a train window. It suited the panorama wonderfully.
Take a train
It is not a coincidence that the first thing I mention about Switzerland is trains. That was the transport we chose for this country. It may be cheaper to rent a car (if you are not traveling alone) and it may give you more freedom while traveling but visiting Switzerland and missing their trains would be like Christmas without believing in Father Christmas. The holiday is still here but the experience will not be the same. That moment when you leave the cities behind you and the mountains and lakes and little towns come into view and Moby is ringing in your ears is when you fall in love with the country.
We only had 4 days in Switzerland and we wanted to see as much as possible so after some consideration we decided to get a Swiss travel pass. You can get that in any train station and the freedom of traveling it allows you is wonderful. You can take any train or boat in Switzerland. And you also get a free pass into many of the museums. Though it did cost us more than getting from Lithuania to Switzerland 😉 Still worth it.
Have a cheese fondue
Do you know when people tell you that nothing tastes as good as being fit feels? They are lying J While in Lausanne we were told that if you decide to eat cheese fondue the place for that would be Cafe de l’Eveche. We were not disappointed. On a sunny afternoon with the sound of bells from Cathedral of Lausanne we were brought a red gleaming pot of gruvery cheese and a bottle of Sauvignon blanc. And I don‘t know how much does being fit feel for some people, but that dinner was something marvelous.
Find the Olympic spirit in Lausanne
„The Olympic spirit will find the pledge of freedom that it needs to progress in the independent and proud atmosphere that one breathes in Lausanne“ these are the words of Baron Coubertin, the man who revived the Olympic games. We found ourselves in Lausanne during the European football championship. Switzerland vs. Albania – that was the game that we watched in the pier of Lausanne among the fans of both teams. And you have to admit that football fans are usually hmm… let‘s say a bit passionate about their teams. Well they were but at the same time you could feel that the most important thing in the end was a well played game. Excellence, friendship, respect – those are the main Olympic values. Well done, Laussane, I think Baron Coubertin would not be disappointed.
Next to the Olympics spirit Lausanne can offer delicious cheese (do not forget the fondue!), local wines and panoramic views. Just behind the Cathedral of Lausanne, a magnificent building stretching into the sky, you may enjoy one of those views. With the taste of Gruyere on your tongue and head still buzzing from the glass of local wine that complements the cheese wonderfully you can watch the city bustling under your feet, the horizon framed with mountains and the bluest of blue Geneva lake gleaming in the sun. Bit sentimental? I thinks it‘s the cheese. Definitely the cheese 😉
Take a boat trip. Try the wine
One of the perks of Swiss travel pass is a free entrance to boat tours on many of the Switzerland lakes. We chose a tour on the Geneva lake. You can spend hours watching the Riviera of the lake pass through your window while enjoying a glass of Cotes des Abbayes recommended by the bartender. Apparently, Switzerland has some really nice wine and most of us haven’t heard about that because they drink most of it within their borders. Very little of Swiss wine is exported so you shouldn’t miss it while you’re here. And if you’re taking that boat tour, plan ahead and save an hour for a walk in Montreux and its’ Chillon Castle.
Sprichst du Deutsch?
Was that right? I don’t speak a word in German. Switzerland not being an overly large country manages to speak four languages: French (that’s Laussane and Geneva and Montreaux that I’ve already told you about), Italian, German and Romansh. The last one was the only one we didn’t get an opportunity to hear as it is spoken in the smallest region of Switzerland. How did they get to this? Well, it seems that till the age of industrialization Switzerland’s native population has been divided by natural borders like rivers and mountains and thus four different cultures with four different languages in four regions managed to evolve. So do not be surprised that after spending a few hours heading east from Laussane and Geneva the train announcements will be delivered in German.
Lucerne with its’ famous Chapel Bridge, a wooden bridge originally built in the 14th century, the oldest covered bridge in Europe. And if you were to believe Lucerne tourist information this bridge together with the Water tower are the most frequently photographed monument in Switzerland. Well I contributed to these statistics.
Lucerne is lovely and I wouldn’t use any other word but lovely. With its’ medieval streets and buildings it has that romantic European charm. Find a food store and have a picnic on a pier in the middle of Reuss river with the mentioned Chapel Bridge in the background. What I love about travelling is the ability to go a little crazy in the cheese and ham sections of the food store. And FIY Switzerland is not EU, which means that you can enjoy a bottle of sparkling wine with that picnic.
One more hour into the east and you are at Bern, the capital of Switzerland. And no, it is not Zurich, though quite a few people make that mistake. Bern is best known for its’ medieval old town but it really is not the same as many other medieval cities you’ve visited in Europe. It is more spacious, a result of a fire in the medieval ages.
It is also much more colorful with a series of fountains, flags and medieval guild crests. It has preserved a medieval atmosphere that is not overpower by renaissance building as is the case in some European cities. The fountains aren’t white / grey, they are colorful and decorated with different figures that each represents a different allegory. The streets are decorated with flags and crests of different cantons, communes and various guilds. You can almost imagine what a medieval festival would look like among all those flags and crests. And of course, the most common one you’ll find is a red/yellow flag with a bear on it. That’s the flag of Bern and a bear has been the city’s heraldic animal from the 13th century. And as a true city of bears Bern has a free bear park, where you can meet Björk and Finn and their daughter Ursina.
And for a panoramic view Bern has a rose garden filled with flowers and a wonderful view of the whole city. Zurich was the last stop in the German part of Switzerland and though we didn’t have a lot of time in the city we had an opportunity to spend an hour wandering the city and admiring the stained glass windows of Grossmünster church. And in the end we spent our last hours in Switzerland basking in the sun on the pier with the sound of accordion in the background and an enormous amount of swans contemplating whether they should try tasting our shoes.
Dolce far niente in Switzerland
Lugano, a town in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland, was the first and the last town we visited during our stay in Switzerland as it is right next to the southern border and only a few hours train ride from Bergamo airport, our arrival and departure point. And Lugano made the best first impression possible. If you ever wanted to see a postcard this is it.
Surrounded by lakes and mountains Lugano lazily stretches down the mountain. Have a cup of coffee, wander the little streets and Civico-Ciani park, visit the food market and buy cherries.
And for all the fans of Herman Hesse there‘s a small museum dedicated for him. The wirter had lived half of his life in a small village overlooking lake Lugano and the city of Lugano upon it.
Even if you are not visiting Switzerland but find yourself in the northern parts of Italy, catch a train and come see Lugano. It will remind you why is worth to travel.
The experience of Switzerland
The experience of Switzerland in my head is a tangle of fine food and wine, breathtaking views, football matches, trains and a string of moments enjoyed. And of course, the people you travel with and the people you meet on the way are the key element in any journey.
If you decide to travel with someone pick the person who will be as crazy about cheese fondues as you are. And we will be eternally grateful for Denis, a perfect host, whom we met in Israel and bonded over Star wars. And of course for Alexandre and his cat Tipex, who were both very patient with two girls invading their space.
Traveling is just different when you have someone showing off their city and telling stories that you will not find on your guidebook.
Enjoy the journey!