This is the fifth post in a series I wrote about my first European adventure. Our trip began with a long layover in London, England and ended in Paris, France. This is a recap from our trip to see friends as we discover what it’s like to be visiting Switzerland in the fall. You can find the other posts here.
The hills are alive with the Sound of Music. I might be strange, but as the Alps came into view from where I was sitting on the train, I could not help but think about the Von Trapp family. I’m not sure how accurate their escape from the Nazis was in the movie, but the film shows the family hiking through the Swiss Alps to freedom as the credits roll so that’s where my mind went. Just go with me on this.
I also took it as a good sign that I had just enough Euros to purchase a decaf cappuccino – 2.30 Euros to be exact. It was perfect! Now that we were traveling to Switzerland we would need to use their local currency, Swiss Francs. Although the Swiss participate in the Schengen Agreement, which grants easier boarder crossings to most western European countries, they are not part of the European Union and thus do not use the Euro.
Switzerland, known mostly for it’s beautiful alps, is a haven for skiing in the winter and hiking in the summer. As a landlocked country, it is greatly influenced by it’s bordering countries. It even boasts 4 national languages depending on what region you are visiting – German, French, Italian and Romansh. However, you will find that the country’s 7.7 million inhabitants speak many more languages. And if you go to Switzerland hoping to practice your German – watch out. While they read and write in German, they actually speak a different dialect known as Swiss-German.
We purchased our train tickets the day before from the train office in Venice. I was a bit nervous waiting until we got to Venice to purchase these, but we did lots of research online and this seemed like the safest bet. However, knowing what tickets we wanted before we got to the ticket counter did make it easier.
Switzerland was a special stop because we stayed with friends. When my husband was in high school, his family hosted a foreign exchange student and they have remained close throughout the years. In fact, Jan (his foreign exchange “brother”) and his family were in Washington D.C. for three years while he acquired an international law degree. We were lucky enough to visit them a few times while they were in the States and always wanted to get over to Europe to see them.
Well, 13 years after Brett and I met, we were finally on our way to Switzerland!
Jan and his family live in a beautiful small town called Olten. It’s so much of a local town that it did not show up in any of my travel books. But, it is wonderfully located halfway between Zurich and Bern. Another plus is that all of the trains run through Olten so it’s really easy to get there. Our stay in Switzerland lasted 4 nights so we had a little bit of time to explore some of this beautiful country.
We arrived in the afternoon on Wednesday and spent the evening catching up with our friends and hanging out with their 3 kiddos. The next day, we set out for some sightseeing of the beautiful Swiss Alps. We went to Stans to check out the first open air gondola which recently opened at Stanserhorn. It was really neat. It was a double-decker gondola with an open air top. Once at the top we had gorgeous panoramic views of the Alps!
We even got to enjoy a nice family picnic while taking in the scenery. Did you notice the weather turned around? We left all of the rain behind in Italy and got to enjoy unseasonably beautiful weather for the rest of our trip.
Then we hopped back on the train and headed to Lucerne. No trip to Switzerland is complete without a stop here. You’ll recognize the famous wooden bridge and the weeping lion statue. This was the only time we ran into a bus of tourists.
The next day, the men took me and the young girls on a driving tour of the country. We started in Grindelwald first. After a look around the town, we stopped for a morning cappuccino and juice. Then it was a quick playtime break in the park for the girls.
The next stop was Interlaken. What a beautiful town. You could tell this is where some of the wealthier tourists visit. Interlaken is one of the oldest tourist resorts in Switzerland and still remains one of the most popular today.
Our final stop on the tour of the day was Bern. It is the 5th most populous town in Switzerland and in 1983 the historic old town became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town is known for the Bern brown bears and legend has it that it was named Bern because that was the first animal the founder of the city found on a hunt there. Of course that may be just an old tale, but there is an animal habitat with live bears in Bern.
That night we went out for dinner to celebrate the middle daughter’s 7th birthday and it was a celebration for us too as we were treated to authentic Swiss fondue. It’s a good thing we do not eat that all the time. Basically we just consumed a pound of melted cheese with bread and potatoes. It was a delicious carb and dairy overload!
Our final full day in Switzerland consisted of taking a hike near Olten. Hiking there was really cool because we took a bus part of the way that seemed to drop us off in the middle of nowhere. Then the end of the hike was through what seemed like people’s private property with their dairy cows feeding on the grass.
It was also really interesting to see history from WWII on our hike. Jan said there’s stuff like this all over Switzerland as they were prepared to fight the Germans. Lucky for them, they were able to stay out of the fight. This is a cannon station that was set up to look like a rock from the North. They never bothered to finish the South face because the enemies wouldn’t have seen that side of the structure.
Toward the top of our hike we stopped at a farmhouse for refreshments. Our friend informed us that the Swiss do not like to go more than 5 miles without being able to stop for a pint and a bite. People will often turn part of their homes into these pitstops like this farmhouse.
It was a fabulous stop and such a neat way to experience a bit of the local culture.
Unfortunately, we had to say goodbye to our friends on the 4th day. Our Swiss trip ended with a train ride to Paris. Again, we picked the tickets up at the station, but this time the morning of our departure. We had a quick stop in Basel to change trains and it gave us enough time to walk to the river and quickly wander through the town. Oh and of course, there was also time for a decaf cappuccino!
Only one stop left on our European adventure. Stay tuned for the final installment as we visit Paris.