Kristina and I have been married for ten years (!) come June, and we had a very small wedding and no honeymoon because we were completely broke at the time. We decided we’d do a big trip for our ten-year anniversary to make up for it, and decided on Switzerland. Kristina had been there about fifteen years ago and loved it, and was really keen to show me around and also to take photos with a proper camera and better eye for composition.
Given it was our ten-year anniversary and it’s an absurdly long flight, we splurged for business class with Qatar Airways, and oh my GOD was it worth it. We were allowed to use the Qantas business class lounge at the airport before the flight, which has a buffet and drinks and snacks area (none of which costs anything beyond you having a business class ticket to get in in the first place).
The flight itself was incredible, we were on an Airbus A380, the service was fantastic as was the food, and the seats were SO SPACIOUS. You could order whatever you wanted whenever you wanted, for dinner I had the braised lamb shank ragu and it was properly excellent.
The flight time was 15 hours to Doha in Qatar, then a four-hour layover and another six hours from there to Zürich. The business class seats fold down fully flat into beds, so with the combination of staying up until 2am Sydney time and a sleeping tablet, I actually had a surprisingly decent sleep. We landed in Doha at about 5:30am local time and were thoroughly unimpressed with the airport and the business class lounge there (it was tacky and confusing, the food wasn’t very good, and a significant portion of it smelled like smoke because they had a room for people who smoke to go into, and it inevitably escaped from there).
This flight was on the smaller A350, but the business class section had Qatar Airways’ “Q-Suite” seats which are their own little self-contained pods and it was SO GOOD. The food was again fantastic, I had the Hungarian goulash and it was the sort of thing you’d be happy to get in a restaurant. They also had in-flight wifi for $10 so we both took full advantage of that. It wasn’t the speediest connection in the world but it’s still pretty sweet to be able to be tooling around on the internet when you’re 40,000 feet above Turkey.
We landed in Zürich at about 2:30pm local time, breezed through “immigration” (which consisted of a very nice woman who checked our passports and asked us how long we were staying for, and then we were done), then jumped on a train to Bern to drop our luggage off at the AirBnB. The guy who owns the place we’re staying is actually a travel writer and he was kind enough to meet us at the station and give us a quick rundown on the trams and which stop we need to get off at and such. The apartment was a top-floor one in a block that was built in the 1920s and was about five minutes tram ride or fifteen minutes walk from the main train station.
We did a bit of wandering around and taking photos to keep ourselves awake then went to sleep at about 10pm, and managed to totally avoid getting any jet lag!
I’ve linked the full albums from each day’s heading.
We spent the day walking around Bern and taking photos of all of the old buildings. There’s a lot of really good little bakeries and delis, so lunch was some really delicious little rolls with cheese and cured meats. Public transport is huge in Switzerland and we ended up taking the trams quite a lot.
We finished the day at the Bern Historical Museum which had a ton of artifacts from all over Bern’s history.
One of Kristina’s friends, Eva, lives in Basel, which is right in the very north near the borders of both Germany and France, so we went up and visited her and she played tour guide for us which was great. Our first stop was an old Roman settlement ruin called Augusta Raurica that dates from around 44BC!
After that was more just wandering around taking photos of properly old buildings and churches. And man, they do not fuck around with their churches in Switzerland!
For lunch Eva took us to one of her favourite restaurants where we had flammenkuchen, which is sort of like pizza, except… not. The traditional version has bacon and onions on it and it was delicious.
After that we took a ferry across the Rhine and marvelled at even more cool old buildings! (This is pretty much the main theme of the trip).
The old town of Basel has been around since medieval times, and one of the really cool remnants of this can be seen in the three city gates that are still standing. We visited one of them, and the contrast between inside the wall (old buildings, really tightly crammed together, narrow streets) and the outside (comparatively modern buildings, wide streets) was quite striking.
Dinner in Basel was at Eva’s favourite Italian restaurant, I had the simplest possible spaghetti in tomato pasta sauce, and it was absolutely the best Italian I’ve had. Everything was amazingly fresh and just perfect.
We met up with Eva again and went to Murten, which is an old medieval town and has been settled since the sixth century AD! It had a similar feel to Basel’s old town of really being an old cramped town back in the day, and had a huge stone wall that ran most of the way around it.
After Murten we went back to Bern and did some more wandering to see some bits we hadn’t seen already.
I set a new personal best step count of 21,000 that day!
Kristina was determined to see mountains, and unfortunately for the most part the weather wasn’t cooperating, pretty much the entire trip was overcast with low cloud. We had some success on day 5 though, we went to Lauterbrunnen which is a town nestled in the foothills of some of the mountains, and was very pretty.
From Lauterbrunnen we took a cable car and then a little narrow-gauge train up to the town of Mürren, it’s not up in the really high parts of the mountains but there were some fantastic views nonetheless and I got to see snow!
Gruyères is, unsurprisingly, yet another very old town. The oldest bit is up a big hill and has a huge castle in it and great views of the surrounding countryside.
The castle is called Chateau de Gruyères and dates from around 1280! Entry costs money, but it was well worth it.
For lunch we both had THE FANCIEST (and probably most unhealthy) grilled cheese on toast ever.
I forget what sort of cheese that is, but the bread was underneath all of that, clearly fried, and covered in some sort of delicious mustard.
Gruyères is also home to the H.R. Geiger museum! It was filled with his artwork and seriously cool, but you’re not allowed to take photos in it. ? I also didn’t realise just how horny Geiger was… there were a lot more extremely busty women (well… women-slash-robots-slash-aliens) in his art than I recalled there being, and there was a room with a curtain over the front and a sign that said “This display for adults only”, and holy crap there was some extremely explicit artwork in there. ?
However, next door is a bar that’s decorated in the H.R. Geiger style, and it was also very cool.
We also went into a cheese-making factory, but it was significantly less interesting than you’d potentially think. The giant hall filled with Gruyères cheese that was ageing was pretty neat though.
Day 7 was the day we relocated from Bern to Lucerne. The previous place and host had set a very high bar, and unfortunately the one we moved to didn’t come near it. The place was very confusing to find to begin with, not helped by the total lack of instructions from the host, and we ended up being helped by a very nice older man. It was much smaller than the previous place, and despite saying it had a kitchen, it didn’t include basic things like oil to cook with or anything except salt and pepper. It also only came with about half a roll of toilet paper despite us staying there for five days, so we had to message the woman who ran the place (who took an eternity to answer messages) to get more. She apparently ran the crappy hotel across the street and clearly this place was just an afterthought and way to make a bit more money on the side. There wasn’t nearly the level of care and thought that the previous place had shown.
We were fairly pooped as it was, so we took a trip out to the Transport Museum and that was about it for Day 7. It was a really cool museum though, especially for a huge nerd like me! There were big sections for trains, cars, aerospace, and boats, and included a full-size jet airliner in the open area in the middle.
Dinner was store-bought pasta and basil pesto from a jar, cooked at home, but the pesto was surprisingly delicious!
We began day 8 with wandering around Lucerne, but it was cold and grey (more so than it’d been previously), we weren’t in a great mood from the annoyance of the previous day, and everything seemed a bit dingy and run-down and there was construction everywhere, so that didn’t really help matters.
Zürich was only 45 minutes train ride away (in Sydney 45 minutes doesn’t even get you from our local train station near our house to the CBD!), so we decided to go check that out. It was pretty nice, very clean but sadly not any warmer or less grey than Lucerne was!
Friends of ours from the UK were coming over for a long weekend because they’d not been to Switzerland before, so we did a bit more wandering around Lucerne and decided our first impression had mostly been coloured by the annoyance and disappointment of the apartment in day 7. It was actually pretty neat, lots of old buildings and even a massive medieval wall and towers that you could climb up into and get a view over the whole city.
A lot of the churches in Switzerland are absolutely insane inside, I guess not that much of a surprise given how many of them are Catholic.
All the old buildings were really neat, and just everywhere, it’s not something you get in Sydney.
We went inside the Jesuit Church that’s on the way back from the train station, and it was the lightest airiest-feeling church I’ve ever seen!
Dinner was at a really good restaurant called Zunfthausrestaurant Pfistern, I had veal in an onion and mushroom sauce and a rösti, which is traditional Swiss fare and is sort of like a hashbrown. The whole meal was fantastic.
Afterwards I took a couple of handheld (well, sitting on a convenient wall) night-time shots which I’ve not done for a while.
Bellinzona and Lugano are both near the border with Italy and thus on the other side of the Alps from where we’d been previously. To get there you go through the Gotthard Base Tunnel, a 57km-long tunnel (the world’s longest and also deepest traffic tunnel) that goes directly under and through the Alps. The different in weather from the north side to the south side was incredible, it was cold and grey and dreary as we were going into the tunnel, then when we emerged on the other side it was bright and sunny and comparatively warmer.
Bellinzona and Lugano are fascinating, it’s still Switzerland but all the signs are in Italian, you hear everyone mostly just speaking Italian, and all the architecture is very Mediterranean. It was really neat to feel like we’d gone to a totally different country, but without actually having done that! (Of course, this being Europe, you can go to a totally different country with very little effort. :P)
Bellinzona has been settled for centuries, and there’s three major castles that are still around. We went to two of them, Castelgrande and Montebello Castle, but the third was way up a hill that we couldn’t be bothered going up.
After going up to Castelgrande and back down, we went up to Montebello Castle which was even more of a hike!
After that we took the train 20 minutes further down to Lugano, which is even more Italian than Bellinzona was!
Dinner was back in Lucerne, in a brewery just next to the place we’d been the previous night. I had a cider which came in a very fancy bottle (and confused the waitress because I asked for a cider which she said they didn’t have, but then we found it on the menu and realised that it’s referred to as “moscht”).
The meal was very similar to the previous night except with German sausages instead of veal, and I took a photo but immediately deleted it because it was not appetising in the slightest. 😛
Day 11: Lausanne
Lausanne is two and a quarter hours from Lucerne, down in the south-west of the country towards the border with France. Just like Bellinzona and Lugano felt like you were in Italy, Lausanne felt like you were in France. All the signs were in French, everyone was speaking French, and all the architecture was very stereotypically French as well.
It was pretty neat, but in Switzerland almost everything shuts down on Sundays, so there were very few people around compared to other places we’d been on other days, so it was a little odd. Lausanne is very hilly, and there was a very large church on top of a hill that was clearly very old, but also not insanely gaudy like some of the other Catholic churches are.
You’ll note that I haven’t linked to an album on Flickr for this day and that the two photos above are from an iPhone, and that’s because on the train trip back to Lucerne, someone stole our camera bag which of course had the camera in it. ? I had been copying the photos each night onto Kristina’s computer so I was only down that single day’s photos, but still. We got a police report and the insurance company didn’t put up a fight when we reported it when we got back to Sydney, but unfortunately they take into account depreciation so the amount we got back was enough to cover a brand-new camera body but not lens. We took the opportunity to upgrade to the new 35mm f/1.4L II that came out a few years ago (the one we had on this trip originally came out in 1998!) and holy crap it’s sharp even at f/1.4. I’m not even so much pissed off at losing the camera itself, but the photos. There was some really neat architecture, and it was a really shitty way to end an otherwise great trip.
Day 12: Zürich
Since our flight back to Sydney was at 9am on what would be day 13, we shifted base to Zürich for day 12 and stayed at a hotel so we could just jump on the train the next day and be done with it. As expected we did some more wandering, though I was still simultaneously pissed off and sad about the camera being stolen and wasn’t feeling in the mood for taking any photos.
Dinner was at a fancy restaurant whose name I forget, Kristina’s dinner wasn’t great but mine was excellent: it’s a traditional Swiss dish called G’hacktes mit Hörnli and it’s a meat sauce served with macaroni and apple sauce. There’s a recipe here that Kristina found, we haven’t tried that particular one yet but DAMN it was nice.
While at this same restaurant, I also hilariously managed to set the menu on fire! They’d put a candle in the middle of the tables, and their menus were just paper on a clipboard, where the clip is at the top so you move the pages over the top of the backing board as you’re browsing. Naturally, this led to me looking over and going “OH SHIT” as the bottom of the menu page started burning. It was easy to put out and the waitress actually said this wasn’t the first time that’s happened, to which I have to wonder, why not just change the design of your menu then?!
The flights back
The flights back were on the same planes as the ones over (an Airbus A350 from Zürich to Doha, and an Airbus A380 from Doha to Sydney), which is to say delightfully comfortable. Unfortunately we stupidly forgot to pack the sleeping tablets into our carry-on luggage, and the flight from Doha to Sydney had this pair of bloody oldies who kept coughing THE ENTIRE FLIGHT, through the ENTIRE NIGHT PERIOD. They didn’t get up out of their seats to go sit at the bar area that’s away from where everyone else was, they had to sit there and keep us all awake. The combination of those two things meant we didn’t sleep remotely as well as on the flight over (I guess that’s better than the alternatively), and my sleep was utterly screwed for the next week and a half. Several times I was up for 2-3 hours in the middle of the night, just… not sleeping. Part of I think was me not being used to having trouble sleeping, so I’d wake up and be thinking “Crap, I’m awake, this is going to suck trying to get back to sleep”, and ending up in a vicious cycle.
I’d downloaded the meditation app Calm a while back, and after we’d gotten back ended up subscribing to it because all the stuff I wanted to do was locked behind paywall. It was absolutely worth it though, I had a few nights of listening to a couple of their pre-sleep meditation things before bed and I’m pretty well back to my normal sleeps now!
Overall it was a really excellent trip, and I’m trying not to focus on the camera being stolen because that just casts the whole trip in a negative light.
- This trip was by far the most I’ve ever walked, I think. The minimum we did when we were having a “lazy” day was about 11k steps, and I set a new personal best on the day we were in Basel with ~21k! I’d fully expected to put on weight while we were over there because of how stodgy the food is, but I weighed myself when we got back to Sydney and I’d lost a kilogram!
- In most of the parts of Switzerland that we visited, the train announcements were given in German, French, and English, but the French being what they are, in Gruyères and Lausanne the announcements were in French and nothing else, despite the official languages of Switzerland being German and French and Italian and Romansh.
- Speaking of trains, holy crap they are expensive and the pricing structure is confusing as hell. We bought a “half-fare” card which paid for itself by about the second day, but there’s so many discounts and different costs for different things it’s crazy.
- Compared to Sydney’s trains, the Swiss ones are super on-time (it seems like they have a built-in linger time at each station to ensure they run to time, whereas mostly in Sydney they’ll arrive at a station then depart as soon as everyone’s on board), but we did have a handful of delays, and both Kristina’s friend Eva and our host for the place in Bern said the trains had gone downhill a bit lately.
- The trains and the platforms are massively long, and there’s first-class and second-class carriages. Each platform has “sectors”, marked with letters A through to however long it needs to be, and the platform display will show which sector you need to be standing at for the first or second-class carriage (and even the restaurant carriage, which quite a lot of trains had).