Swiss towns, Alps, chocolate, German, French, and a little bit of Liechtenstein
Our strategy for travel is pretty simple: we pick some strategically located cities with sites we want to see to use as “bases” and explore from there. Staying in one city for anywhere between 2-4 days allows us a lot of flexibility and is a lot less stressful than having to move all our stuff more frequently. We get to check out the city to our hearts content but also allows time for rest or laundry or further trip planning as needed. With a rail pass, we can also leave our base on day trips and see as much of the country as we want to.
Switzerland is a perfect country for this, as it is reasonably small. There are also some great cities to use as bases and many places around the country that are well worth visiting. Since my general rule is that anything further than 2 hours away won’t allow enough time for a day trip, picking the right cities for bases leaves even the furthest towns only about an hour away. We had every intention of taking advantage of this.
That Swiss countryside
Swiss countryside from the train
Arriving in Zürich, the largest city in the country, we knew we wanted to explore the old city sitting right on the river with its beautiful mountain backdrop. Wandering the cobbled streets was a treat, and we enjoyed the towering churches. We also spent some time wandering down Bahnhofstraße, with all of its high end stores. This is also the street where those famous Zürich banks are – where there are supposedly vaults under the city filled with gold! . As we were there over Easter, we were able to locate a Hillsong church with an English translation service, and the young and hip vibe with rockin’ music really charged us up.
Is there really gold under there?
My kind of service
With Zurich as our base, we took a day trip to the small town of Stein am Rhein, right up on the border of Germany. It took us an hour to get there by train, and we did a lovely 2 hour walk along the river before venturing into town. Many buildings in the small city center are adorned with old frescoes, and as we strolled we did our best to figure out what they meant. Stein am Rhein was actually busier than we expected, but it made for a nice getaway from the big city.
Stein am Rhein
Looking across the Rhine at Stein am Rhein
Liechtenstein is the sixth smallest country in the world, and I didn’t make the journey there on my other trips to Europe, so I thought it would be neat to see it for a day. The entire country only encompasses 25 square kilometers and is home to some 30,000 people. Ruled by a prince in a castle on a hill, the pretty slice of Europe was quiet and clean. A double landlocked country, it has an open border with its neighbors. If there wasn’t a sign on the bridge as we walked across the border, we never would have known we were no longer in Switzerland.
Crossing the border
I won’t say that Liechtenstein had a very unique flair to it, with the villages in the valley and the small stretch of Alps belonging to it towering over them. With Vaduz as the capital, the castle over the town is still very much in use and therefore closed to the public. It’s still possible to get some nice views from up there though. There are a few sites of interest to some such as an art museum and a museum dedicated to the country’s history.
Vaduz from above
Arriving from Zürich to the border town of Buchs, we ended up walking from the Swiss border to the small town of Schaan, and then following the road south to the Vaduz city center. Even though we walked a good chunk of the country, it only took us just over an hour to do so. Vaduz has a cute little city center, and we hiked up to the castle for those nice views. It was a fun half day stop before we headed back to Zurich.
Strolling through Liechtenstein
Our last day in Zürich found us heading to a… are you ready for this? We took a train an hour northeast of Zurich to visit a Willy Wonkaesque chocolate factory, called Maestrani’s Chocolarium. Designed for both kids and adults, we got to learn about how chocolate bars come to be while playing with interactive exhibits. We got to simulate milking a cow, spin knobs, twirl gadgets, watch chocolate being made on the factory floor, and of course…eat as much chocolate as we desired. We all definitely consumed more than humanly possible… but somehow we survived!
Looking back at the fun we had in Zürich, we traveled on to Switzerland’s capital of Bern. The beautiful city center here is largely devoid of cars and all 6km of it are right out of the 1500s. It was a real treat to wander the streets and check out the fountains, statues, churches, architecture, and clock towers. One of the clock towers even puts on a display every hour on the hour. With the river Aare snaking it’s way through the city, Alps in the background, and an abundance of parks, it was a very picturesque place to while away the day.
Bern baby Bern
Walking through Bern
On day two, after a very relaxing morning waiting out the rain, we did a hike up one of the nearby hills in search of awesome views of the city and also the Burnese Alps. The path took us through some beautiful forest land before depositing us at the top of the hill. With the Alps averaging 10,000 feet high, we had a bit of cloud interference but still got some great views of these tall peaks. We also climbed a nearby tower to get some great pictures of Bern for you all before heading back to town.
I love this view
Bern and countryside
The next day we took another hour long train to the city of Lausanne, towards the western border of Switzerland, which happens to be located in the French speaking part of the country. Interestingly enough, even though a majority of the country speaks German, the sections near the French and Italian borders use those languages as their official language. The more you know. I was excited to dust off my French and see how much damage I could do.
We had to bundle up and dodge the rain as we set out into the city to see the sites. As we walked through the streets of the old city, we were greeted by a bustling Saturday market and a ton of locals browsing the fresh fruits, veggies, cheeses, meats, breads, and other goodies. Although we didn’t end up buying anything ourselves, it is always neat to come across locals doing what they do and being able to experience it first hand. The smells through the streets were divine as well. :)
Bustling markets of Lausanne
As with seemingly all Swiss cities, Lausanne really is a sight to behold. It sits on Lake Leman which beautifully meets up with those Swiss Alps in the distance. Even the masters of old couldn’t have created a better masterpiece. Lausanne also happens to be the headquarters for the International Olympic Committee, with a museum dedicated to the games. Even though the next Olympics is some 450 days away in Tokyo as the signage here told me, there is Olympic hype here year-round.
Where the mountains meet the lake
On our last day in Switzerland, we traveled by train along the lake to the town of Montreux. We were trying to take advantage of a gap in the rain to walk on the beautiful lakeside promenade. With flowers in full bloom, it was a really enjoyable sight. We miscalculated and ended up getting dumped on the last 20 minutes, but we’re still glad we went!
Enjoying Montreux's promenade
Now, we’re heading west across the French border first to Lyon, and then beyond. Stay tuned!