Austin in SwitzerlandI'm back.
Finally, after years of waiting, checking the blog day after day, hoping for some new information about my life, I have returned. Since I posted that last Austria blog, nearly four years have passed. I finished my Bachelor's degree, couldn't find a job, moved to St. Louis and went back to school, got another Bachelor's and a Master's degree, got a job, moved out of St. Louis, and have finally returned to Europe. This is a two week trip with a friend of mine from high school, Ryan, before I have to start an actual grown-up job in June.
So here we go again. I figured I would dust off the old WordPress account and write down what we did in Switzerland so that I can look back on it someday. I've found that there is a lot of stuff in the Austria blog that I had forgotten, so I think this is a worthwhile endeavour. So without further ado...
Lincoln, NE21 May 2019
Ryan's mother drove me to the airport in Omaha. I then flew to Atlanta followed by Zürich, Switzerland. I watched that new Neil Armstrong movie on the plane.
... That's really all I have to say about that.
Zürich22 May 2019
Ryan lives in Virginia, so I rendezvoused with him at the airport. Before leaving, we picked up a special "Swiss Travel Pass" that, while kinda pricey, allowed us to have free train and bus transportation anywhere, as well as free/discounted admission to many sites. It was worth it. For most of my travels prior in Europe, I stayed at youth hostels. Technology has progressed since then, so most of our bookings were at fancy AirBnBs (maybe they were around then, I can't remember). We didn't want to drag our heavy suitcases around town all day, so we took the bus out to the apartment of our host, dropped off our luggage, and returned back to the center of town. If we're being honest, Zürich is a neat city, but wasn't exactly a high priority on our trip, we just wanted to say that we'd been there and the flights were cheaper there. There wasn't really much "must see" stuff for us in Zürich, so we mostly just roamed the city, looking at the landscape and any interesting landmarks that we thought worthwhile. We did visit the Swiss National museum, which gave me some historical perspective on the country that I hadn't bothered to look up beforehand. We were both tired from the flight, so we returned to our lodgings (showing up earlier than the owner expected), and turned in early for the train ride the next morning.
Luzern23 May 2019
We got up early the next morning, left our keys behind, and traveled by train to Luzern (or Lucerne if you're feeling French). Luzern is a large lake-side city more in the center of the country. We followed the same procedure as before, after arriving in the city center train station, we took a bus out to our AirBnB, which was really a room in the top floor of some woman's house. We felt pretty confident about our public transport abilities, however we might have missed our stop and sat at this bus no-man's-zone until we realized our mistake and doubled back. We did eventually find the place, and dropped off our luggage. There was a castle/manor out in the country that we decided to visit, and after missing our bus stop again, we finally made it. Unfortunately, the interior was closed (what kind of place is only open on Wednesdays?), but there were nice grounds that we strolled around in. We saw some lizards, and then decided to return to town.
Back in the city center, we saw a few of the famous landmarks, including a large lion statue carved into a cliff face in town, and a large panorama portrait of the Swiss providing military assistance to the French back in the 1800's. The city is split by a river, and we traveled back and forth across it several times. The most notable bridge has over 100 paintings on it, illustrating the voyage of Death... Or at least it did, until the bridge caught fire in the 1990's. Now it has about a dozen paintings of Death, another dozen charred paintings, and the rest are just rafters. The center of the bridge does have a tower in the middle of the river, a literal water tower.
We finished our desired tour of the city a little early, and had a few hours before dinner, so we sat on a bench by the river and watched the people come and go. We ate, and then picked up a few things that I could eat for breakfast (I'm allergic to gluten now, more on that later), then traveled back to the AirBnB to be ready for another early traveling morning.
Grindelwald24 May 2019 - 26 May 2019
Alright, enough of this city stuff, that's not why we're here! We're here for the Alps, the mountains! Where are the peaks and the cliffs?! Well, we left Luzern and traveled through several small Swiss towns before reaching Grindelwald, of Harry Potter fame. Grindelwald is a town situated in a valley between several towering Swiss peaks. It is a really breath-taking sight. We shook things up again by not staying in an AirBnB, but instead staying in a youth hostel on the other side of town. Grindelwald is not an easy city to get around. The buses only run every half hour, and the entire town is on a hill, meaning we walked downhill through the whole town to get there.
Speaking of which, the two of us have been carrying our iPhones with us throughout the trip, and they keep track of everyone's steps throughout the day in the background. We're not entirely convinced of their accuracy (Ryan often takes notably more steps than me, but mine shows the greater distance walked), but we've been roughly making between 17,000 - 23,000 steps a day, which is about 7.4 - 11.5 miles every day. We even (apparently) climbed the equivalent of 95 floors one day. Not too shabby.
In any case, we were too early to check into the hostel, so I put on my hiking boots and we left our luggage in their luggage room, and off we went. The main attraction in Grindelwald is obviously the mountains surrounding the town, and there is a cable car to take people to one of several locations. There is even some sort of building on top of one of the peaks, and while cool, it was far out of our price range. Instead, we took the cable car up to a station in the mountains, then made our way a short way up to a restaurant they have on one of the intermediate peaks. We had some brews (I had cider) and looked out at the mountain range before us, it was really quite cool. After we had our fill, we returned back down to the cable car and took it to a lower station, but not back to the base. We had had grand ideas of going up and hiking some of the upper routes that were advertised, seeing some of the mountain lakes, it would've been great. However, it was still May, and many of the trails were still snowbound. This left us no choice but to hike one of the lower trails, and to instead take it back into town. It was a very scenic route, and a lovely time... but they were not good trails by any means. The people of Grindelwald never learned how to invent stairs or switchbacks it seems, so all the paths went straight down the mountain. One sign indicated that the grade was between 20-25%. But hike it we did, and we even met a herd of friendly neighborhood cows, complete with their own orchestra of actual cowbells. We returned to the outskirts of town, and made our way back to the hostel and checked in. It was around dinner time, but it had started raining, so we simply ran to the nearest restaurant we could find. I'm not sure what it was that I had, but the ole celiacs acted up, and I was sick as a dog that night. Do not recommend. I've also never seen a hostel so empty. The owners even left, so Ryan and I were the only people up and about to snoop around.
I also should say, that Switzerland is a very lovely country in nearly all ways, it has great views, friendly people, and is easy to get around. The one thing they are really lacking in is the food. Firstly, it is really, really expensive. I don't think we ever saw a restaurant that had a meal under $20, and some options that would be mid-priced in the US would go as high as $50 or $60. We peered into a McDonald's at one point to compare, and a Big Mac will set you back $15. We ended up only eating dinner for the most part, and getting grocery supplies for breakfast. Secondly, the food was... not great. I'm not much of a food connoisseur at all, but the food was at best nothing to write home about, and at worst made me sick. It honestly was a struggle everyday to find anything we found worth getting to eat, and we really didn't look forward to dinner at all.
But enough of that. We don't have time to complain about food, we have mountain stuff to do! We were staying in Grindelwald the next day as well, so we didn't need to pack up, and could get to the main attraction much sooner. We took a quiet trail down by the river over to Gletscherschluct, glacier cavern. It was a narrow-ish cavern between two cliff faces carved out by glaciers and rivers over centuries. It was now a tourist attraction that stretched back about 1 kilometer into the mountain, and actually went an additional 2 km in, although tourist aren't allowed in that far. They even have a rope net set up so that you too can bounce around above dizzying heights over rushing water.
Following that, we walked back into town and the train station, and traveled to nearby Interlaken to look at their landmarks (they didn't really have much), then on to Meiringen. Meiringen is most notable for being the final resting place of one Sherlock Holmes, world famous detective. Except he didn't really die there. And he isn't real. However, the museum to him is indeed real, and contained a recreation of his apartment at 221B Baker Street as well as a statue to him outside. Allegedly, hidden on the statue are clues/motifs to each of the Sherlock Holmes stories, but we weren't really able to identify any.
After the museum, we traveled by funicular (it's like half train, half elevator that goes up mountains) to a station near the falls themselves. The spot where Holmes totally died is marked, and there is even a plaque there to commemorate. There are some nice trails around the falls (better than the ones in Grindelwald), so we hiked around a bit before heading back to Meiringen and Grindelwald. We were pleased to see that the hostel was a bit more lively this time around, and we chatted a bit with some German travelers before heading to bed.
For our third and final day in Grindelwald, we did have to pack up and leave, as the hostel was only open for the two nights (we have no idea why), so we loaded up and checked into a hotel up nearer to the train station and the main stretch. The hotel was very quaint, but you could kinda tell that we were in the attic of the attachment to the hotel. There were also only two showers for the whole building, as far as we could tell. In any case, it was nice enough and I got my own room, so I can't complain.
Most of today's activities were around the border of Thunersee, a nearby lake. We took a train to Interlaken, then by bus to the caves of St. Beatus, patron saint of insulin. He was a second century monk/hermit who hid out in a cave and may have killed a dragon, he was quite a dude. The caves stretch for about a kilometer into the mountain, and are full of cavey stuff like rushing water, stalactites, and other formations, it was neat. We then traveled by bus to two castles overlooking the lake, the first of which was more of a manor, and the second was more of a disappointment. We were originally going to look at another one in nearby Speiz, but decided we were tired of castles, and would rather visit scenic waterfalls before they closed. So, we caught the train to Lauterbrunnen, which may be the most beautiful town I've been in so far. The tourist location claimed to have 10 unique waterfalls, and they were strangely the busiest place we'd been to thus far.
After the falls, we made our way back to Grindelwald and spent the evening hanging out in the hotel lobby. A number of really crazy patrons kept coming in, including, but not limited to: a guy who was overcharged $150 at the local gas station, and expected the hotel receptionist to do something about it; a girl who wanted directions to the gas station, but then apparently couldn't understand what the word "gasoline" meant, and just stared blankly at anyone trying to help; several people who came in asking where their room's kettles were, even though there were signs given to us when we checked in telling us that there are no kettles; and finally my favorite, a stereotypical American couple who missed the last bus to whereever. The husband tried to get the receptionist to call a cab, but it's the middle of rural Switzerland, there are no cabs; the wife came in insisting that she refused to ever take another step; neither one really understood where they were or where they were trying to go, but the kindly receptionist offered to drive them back himself. However, since there was no one else on staff, he left the hotel receptionist duties to Ryan and myself, so for about 15 minutes, we were in charge of a Swiss hotel.
Zermatt27 May 2019
We woke up the next morning, and I managed to get into a shower without any problems. We were finally leaving Grindelwald for the somewhat farther Zermatt, so we had several trains and connections to make. Zermatt is famous for one thing, the Matterhorn. We arrived in town to rather fair weather, and managed to get some pictures of the peak between cloud cover. After checking into our AirBnB, we went to the travel center wanting to hike some more. However, we got the same story, most of the trails were closed due to snow. The only one that was available (which we took) was a cable car up to a nearby town with views of the mountain, then a hike back into town. We were quite excited for this, as it was rather difficult to get good shots of the mountains with the town buildings in the way. We get off the cable car, turn around and... clouds. For the rest of the day, the Matterhorn would be completely occluded by the clouds. Oh well. The hike itself was very pleasant, the trails were actually well made (cough Grindelwald). However, we made rather good time, and were done with the hike by about 2 PM. To be honest, there really isn't much else to do in Zermatt, so we decided to call it an easy day, and just relax in our hotel room. We did run to the grocery store and I finally picked up a plug converter as I had forgotten mine, allowing me to write this very blog post. We did go out to dinner, and I had probably the best meal I'd had so far. It was a salad. With corn. For $8.50. Low bar.
Lausanne28 May 2019
The unimaginable has happened. Something so horrible, that it is amazing that we managed to come out of it alive. We entered the French part of the country. Jokes aside, it really was quite disorientating to go from being somewhat comfortable with the sights and how to get around to going back to being totally lost. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
While Zermatt ended up being a somewhat impromptu relaxed day, Lausanne was always meant to be more chill. Most days we're up and ready by 7 or 8, but today we slept in until a whole 9:30. We checked out of AirBnB, and promptly missed our train by about 1 minute. After waiting a half hour for the next one, we were on our way to Lausanne. This was our longest train ride thus far, and we didn't reach Lausanne until about 1:30 PM, and only dropped off our luggage by about 2. Our first impressions about our new landlord were not great, as she only spoke French, and seemed surprised to see more than one of us there. However, she ended up being a lovely host, and the room was very cozy, so I suppose first impressions aren't everything.
After dropping our stuff off, we took the bus back to the city center. We snooped around at some of the local churches and took in the view. Lausanne is on the edge of Lake Geneva (I wonder what other city on our journey is also on the lake? Hmmmmmmm), and you can see France by looking over to the other side. I haven't been to France before, so I'm hoping at some point we can cross over so that I can say I've been there.
The most notable place we visited is the Olympic museum, as Lausanne is the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee. It was an interesting museum, but it did kinda gloss over some of the less pleasant aspect of the Olympics. Building entire Olympic coliseums every two years is always great for the local economy, and has lead to nothing but prosperity! In any case, it was neat.
We then went and got dinner, I finally got some real gluten-free food, and then we returned back to our AirBnB for the night.
Geneva29 May 2019 - 30 May 2019
Our host told us the previous night that she expected us for breakfast at 8 AM. None of the AirBnBs we had stayed at so far had even offered breakfast ((nor did I expect them to), so this was somewhat of a surprise. Sure enough, when we went downstairs, we came running out, took us to her dining/sun room, and began setting out a regular French breakfast feast. There were two different types of bread, jam, butter, apples, bananas, Italian sausage, coffee, orange juice, yogurt, and eggs. There were more options than most of the hostels we had stayed at. We naturally chowed down, and she took our picture and had us write a little blurb about what we liked about her place. She had a whole book in the room devoted to all of her tenants, and we have joined their ranks.
After finishing and managing to break away, we returned to the central train station and caught a train to Geneva, one of the largest and possibly most famous cities of Switzerland. Originally, we had a bit of a mix up with where we were planning on staying. It was supposed to be an AirBnB "near the train station", until we realized that the train station in question wasn't Geneva, but a French town across the border. We fortunately realized this in time, cancelled the AirBnB, and instead booked a room at a hostel for two nights. The hostel was near enough to the train station that we dropped our stuff off, then returned to the center of town to see the daily sights.
Today was a very exciting day boys and girls, and that's because we took a visit to CERN, home of the Large Hadron Collider and many hardworking nerds. Most people wouldn't appreciate a trip like this, but it was right up my alley. There are only two parts of the facility that are museum pieces; the first of which is a globe-shaped structure that discusses the work they do there, and what particles are and what's happening. There are lots of lights on the wall streaking about to help illustrate the fact. They also have the very first World Wide Web server there, which was kinda neat to see. The other part shows the Hadron Collider and it's scale. You can actually take a more guided tour, but it requires months of waiting and money, neither of which we had. This one was a bit more lackluster, we ended up wishing that it showed more of the history of the facility, as the exhibits kept making references to projects from back in the day, but without any context. In any case, it was pretty cool.
CERN is out in the country, so we returned to town and made our usual tour around. We looked into the largest cathedral we could find, went into a museum of the oldest apartment/townhouse in Geneva, and then we walked around the river and went through the nearby park. There was also a park with a newish looking wall/memorial to (we think) great political reforms throughout world history. They had the English Bill of Rights and the Mayflower Compact. It reminded me a lot of monuments in Washington DC, and it was surprising seeing a monument in Europe so new. We also stopped by and played on a giant chess board, and I'm pleased to say that I was able to emerge victorious.
By this point, it was starting to get late, and we had an entire other day in Geneva, so we had to save some stuff for tomorrow. We returned to properly check into our hostel, and then I did the unthinkable - I did my laundry. While waiting for a machine to open up, I met a Canadian girl who was spending the entire year traveling the world. She said she had just gotten back from Italy, and was headed to France, Spain, Morocco, and then India next. She also said that she worked for the Vancouver police, but the exact nature of her job was classified. Interesting.
Finally, we saw that the hostel offered a really fair priced meal, so we planned on eating that once my laundry was done. However, when we went to the front desk, they informed us that they were "sold out of dinners", even though it was open for another hour. This left us no choice but to try this restaurant about a mile away that only sells gluten-free food (oh god). It was actually really good, and while I probably paid more for a burger there than I have my entire life, it was maybe the most satisfying meal I've had in Switzerland.
That brings us back to now. We're sitting in the lobby of the hostel, where not much is going on. I'm writing this, Ryan is playing a game, and we're ready for our second day in Geneva.
Since we were only spending two days total in Geneva, we needed to get everything remaining out of the way today. To that end, in the morning we took a bus to two sights near each other, the headquarters of the United Nations, and the Red Cross. The Red Cross has a neat museum discussing both their history throughout wartime, as well as a traveling exhibit on conditions inside prisons. It wasn't exactly the most uplifting exhibits in the world, but they were interesting. Following this, we were hoping to get a better look into the UN. We were under the impression that UN tours required a reservation far in advance, but apparently this wasn't the case. However, we arrived at a bad time, and the next tour wouldn't be for another few hours, so we were unfortunately unable to tour the center. Following this, we took a lovely stroll throughout Geneva, and in particular next to the river. Geneva is actually situated between two rivers, and I know neither one of their names. Instead we shall refer to them as the "Blue River" and the "Dirty River" because that's what they look like. We walked along the Blue River for a bit, then stared out at the point of where the two rivers meet, which looks cool to see the two water colors swirling together.
There was one additional thing we had to do while in Geneva, and that is to escape the country over the border. Geneva is right next to the French border, and given that I haven't been there before, this seemed like the perfect chance to add that one to the list. There is a mountain overlooking the city, so we took a bus out to the edge of town, officially crossed the border (no border checks in sight), and then took a cable car up to the top. At the top, there is a small observation post. From there, there is a whole view of the city of Geneva. We wanted to be able to look from the mountain out into France, so we hiked for a bit the other direction, but it soon became clear that the trees were going to be too dense in that direction to actually see anything, so we turned back, enjoyed the view for a little longer, then returned back to Geneva.
We returned to the hostel after this, and tried out the dinner that the hostel offered (it was okay, but less expensive than the other places we've had so it had that going for it). This was our final day in Geneva before heading to the (kinda) last town, Bern
Bern31 May 2019 - 2 June 2019
Our final destination! We checked out of our Geneva hotel and once again caught the train up to Bern. With that, we have finally returned to the German-speaking part of the country! Thank goodness. Our AirBnB host wasn't going to be back until the afternoon, so we had to stick our luggage into lockers at the train station (actually the first time this has happened). When I was in Munich, they have a fancy clock that dances at the top of the hour. Bern has a similar clock, and we happened to be there right around noon, so we watched the animatronics dance around for us at the top of the hour. It was neat, but not as neat as the Munich on was. Bern was also the home of Albert Einstein, so we visited the house that he lived in, followed by a trip up one of the (small-ish) mountains to the rose garden in town. It was a very scenic and cool garden that I probably could've stayed in all day. Bern is also well known for having "Bear pits" where they keep some live bears. It doesn't sound too cozy for the bears, but fortunately the pits were seemingly empty so I guess they did away with that idea at some point. We looked around at a really weird art gallery, which actually had some artists I'd heard of, like Van Gogh and Salvador Dali.
We returned to our AirBnB, where our host was probably the most accommodating one that we've had so far. He had advice about what spots to go to around Bern and Switzerland as a whole, he had a whole collection of maps, and even gave us chocolates. It would've been really great information... if this was still the first day. As it was, many of the things he suggested we had already done, but it was nice to get some confirmation I suppose. We returned to the city center, and for dinner we decided that we had had enough of overpriced Swiss food, and decided to see how the Swiss tried cuisine closer to us, in this case Mexican. We went to a Mexican joint, and it was pretty good Mexican food, which ranks as probably the best place I ate while in Switzerland, somewhat pathetically. It reminded me a lot of a restaurant called Mission Taco, which was just down the street from where I lived in St. Louis.
This begins the point of our story where we start to become very lethargic. Despite the fact that the sun comes and wakes us up by 6 AM, we lounged around for most of the morning before deciding to get up and do today's activity - another hike. We caught the train to nearby Laupen, and our end goal was to walk the roughly 3-4 hour route to another small town by a lake, Morten. It was actually a very pleasant route, which often swapped between small town, wooded area, and walking around farmland. The Swiss do have a problem for labeling things as walking trails that are simply paved roads through town. Still, it was pleasant. We reached Morten by about 3:30, looked around the town a little bit before calling it enough adventure for one day and returning back to Bern.
Since I've done it every other day, I suppose I should mention what we had for dinner. We went back to the city center of Bern and found a cheapish Italian place to try out. As soon as we looked at the menu, we realized that the was the same place that we tried for our first dinner in Switzerland. We remembered the place fondly enough however, so we had it again before returning back to the AirBnB for the night.
We were really lazy this morning, it was almost noon by the time we forced ourselves to get up. Two weeks is a long time in the same country, but there were a few final things we felt we still wanted to visit before heading out.
Anti-climatic isn't it? I am writing to you from several years in the future now. By the end of this trip, the two of us were so exhausted that I never got around to logging the tail end of the trip (what I have actually ends mid-word). I've had these files sitting on my computer for years, until I finally got the motivation to format them and put them onto my personal website, where no one will ever actually find them. I wish I could remember what else we did on the trip, but I think it was fairly uneventful. We both safely returned to the airport and our respective homes, and successfully completed a two week trip without wanting to kill the other!