Swept Away by Switzerland

“We met this guy on a train in Peru and spent six hours with him and now we are going to visit him for spring break.” That’s why we went to Switzerland.

A little background to the story: In our most recent family trip, our winter vacation to Peru left us with a little more sun and another friend to add in our life. Well, that friend turned out to be one of the most intellectual, kind, genuine and overall fantastic guys my family and I have ever met, upon departing ways the idea of visiting him in Zurich was too easily turned into a reality.

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Fast forward three months, and my dad and I have landed in Zurich for a week of fun and adventure. Adjusting to the time zone, our first day started with a tasty lunch at the upscale Didi’s Frieden. With excellent food and an elegant casual atmosphere, our trip was off to a great start.

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Making sure we got in some culture, our next stop was a visit to the Kunsthaus Zurich. This museum for modern art houses one of the most exquisite art collections, from the works of Chagall and Picasso, to the remarkable Swiss sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti and an absolute essential for anyone traveling to Zurich.

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We celebrated our first night in traditional Swiss style at Zeughauskeller. Originally built as an arsenal storehouse in1487, this restaurant is rooted in history. Known best for its special sausages and famous Swiss dishes like their potato salad or rosti, the traditional tastes and authentic atmosphere draw in the liveliest bunch of travelers, tourists and locals alike for an experience you won’t forget.

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Something I have come to learn in my traveling is that it is truly not about where you go, but who you are with. Sure, it is fun to tell of the places I’ve been and what I have seen, but in my memory what stands is who I was with; who I shared those times with and in whose relationship I can always go back to relive the experience together. This trip in particular reminded me just how big the world is, but yet still so small and how powerful cross cultural relationships are. The second day, we hopped on a train to Aarau where I was able to meet up with my Italian host mom with whom I lived with during my study abroad program last spring. Our day was filled with tears of joys, abundant hugging and uninterrupted conversation in English, German and Italian (two of the four of Switzerland’s main languages) that demonstrated just how important cross-cultural language skills and relationships can be.

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Once we returned to Zurich, we strolled down the crowded and animated Banhofstrasse. After watching the sunset from our water-front seats at the Storken Bar, we called it a night with a nice dinner at Mesa.

Two things to take note of while traveling in Switzerland. One, the Swiss are precise. This translates to that they, including their transportation system, are always on time. I repeat, ALWAYS. If your train is leaving at 11:04, that is when it is leaving exactly, not a second sooner or later. Two, Switzerland is not that big so if you plan travel by train, which I highly recommend, you can purchase a Swiss Travel Pass which allows you to travel seamlessly among the rail, bus and boat networks in addition to free entrance to museums. Though we were not able to, it is definitely a worthwhile investment and will save you lots of time and money during your stay in Switzerland. Unfortunately, you can no longer do it at the main train station so your best option would be to order it online.

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The next day, we took part in the always reliable train system to the gorgeous town of Lucerne. Lucerne’s breathtaking lakeside setting, medieval buildings and impressive mountainous panorama make it a magnet for day visitors and travelers. Greeted by a clear sunny day, we took a stroll across the city’s Chapel Bridge, a restored footbridge containing numerous 17th century paintings and recognized as the oldest, covered wooden bridge in Europe. We had a lovely lunch at the quaint yet inventive STERN, and then proceeded the long awaited and much anticipated pinnacle of experiences, Mount Pilatus.

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There is no shortage of gorgeous mountains in Switzerland and while it is impossible to choose, typing Mount Pilatus in your search bar was enough to capture my soul. From waking up late to spending over an hour looking for the right bus to arriving six minutes before the last gondola went up, every effort to prevent us from reaching the top was not enough to stop us from buying our tickets to one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. After 30 minutes of nothing but up, we arrived at the Pilatus Kulm summit where we were able to look over Lucerne from the most stunning panoramic view I have ever seen. I was in complete awe of the beauty and splendor in front of me, so much so that I truly believe it was a small glimpse of heaven. With our time cut short, I was left yearning for more and would absolutely travel back just for the six minutes in heaven again.

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Here are some tips to plan your trip to the mountain. First and foremost, check the operating hours. The time schedule varies depending on the time of the year and since it takes 30 minutes to the top, plan accordingly to fully enjoy the view. As for getting there, from the main center take bus # 1 (Kriens) to the ‘Kriens, Zentrum Pilatus’ stop (approx. 15 minutes) and then follow the signs for “Pilatus” which is about a 5-minute to walk to the Kriens base terminus. If visiting in the summer, you can head for the top via the world’s steepest cogwheel railway or travel like we did via the year-round gondolas and aerial cableways. Once at the top, take part in the culinary experience at the summit restaurants or even spend a night 2132m high in the Pilatus-Kulm Hotel.

Drinks atop the tallest building in Zurich accompanied by a panoramic view of the city at Clouds was followed by wonderful dinner at Razzia. Formally a theater, this now opulently decorated restaurant is quite popular and can be quite pricy, but their impeccable service and delectable dishes, like salt baked cod and teriyaki glazed entrecote, are prepared to please.

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Now to the part people actually care about; chocolate. Earning itself an international reputation of having the highest quality chocolatiers, Switzerland is known for it’s chocolate production and consumption, giving birth to world-famous chocolate brands such as Nestle, Toblerone, and Lindt. Unsuitably, I have never been a big fan of chocolate or sweets in general. (I know, call me crazy). With that said, I may have taken a step into the dark side when I walked through the glass doors of Sprungli, the ultimate gift from all confectioners. From hazelnut macaroons to nougat truffles, Sprungli has me convinced when you eat more sweets, life gets a little sweeter.

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Our next stop was to the historical capital of Switzerland, the city of Bern. Whether its snacking on mushrooms and artichokes from the local street market, watching the landmark Clock Tower strike noon, or even visiting the Bear Pit which houses bears right on the edge of the city, the laidback air and picture-postcard streets of Bern charm anyone within its borders.

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Once afternoon came around, we drove southeast to the enchanting city of Interlaken. Lying between the glittering Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, this city is set among the Swiss Alps, located right next to the Jungfrau mountain. A walk around the crisp open field lead us to a late lunch at WineArt, which provided equally fantastic service and food. An order of the glazed duck breast, beef tenderloin or fresh fish of the day are all presented and cooked to perfection.

Submitting to our dear friend’s request, it would not be a trip to Switzerland if we did not have fondue. Despite the off-putting stench of cheese upon entering, Fribouger Stubli will have you soaking in the aroma of hot bubbling fondue so soon you’ll become one with the cheese…literally.

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Sunday morning brunch is always a good idea and even more so at the renowned Hiltl. Founded in 1898, Hiltl is the world’s first vegetarian restaurant and serves around 500 dishes of a la carte, buffet and self-service packed with an array of cultural influences and flavors. With multiple locations, we decided on the Hiltl Dachterrasse for its pretty interior, tasty plates and rooftop balcony. After brunch, we hopped on a train to the eastern most town of Switzerland; Geneva. This is where we encountered the third main language and cultural influence of Switzerland and if you told me we were in France, I would have believed you. Whether you want to walk through the Parc des Bastions or take a stroll past the Jet D’eau, know ahead of time that many stores and museums, especially in Geneva, are closed on Sundays so plan accordingly.

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After Geneva, we headed westward to Lausanne, an adorable hillside town on the banks of Lake Geneva. Known for its sporting history and Olympic Museum, there is much more to this town than that. Visit the historic Notre Dame cathedral, shop the cobblestone streets of the Rue de Bourg, or revel in the fossils of the Rumine Palace which houses the Cantonal Museum of Archaeology and History and Zoology.

We stayed at the wonderfully located, waterfront Hotel Aulac, which was only a short walk from a magnificent dinner at Café Beau-Rivage. Located in the exquisite Chateau d’Ouchy, the service was spectacular and our palates were spoiled with plates like pan-fried duck foie gras and candied rhubarb-gariguette to local lake-caught perch fillet that we indulged in enthusiastically.

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The only other thing the Swiss do better than chocolate is cheese and with over 450 varieties of cheese, rightly so. From the semi-hard raclette to soft smear Vacherin Mont-d’Or AOP, the Swiss are magic with milk. So it goes without saying that we had to stop in Gruyeres, the city famed for producing the mild, nutty and flavorful cheese of the same name. For a first hand look at the cheese making process in both its traditional style and in modern commercial dairies, plan to tour La Maison du Gruyere, taking you on an all sense tour of the cheese factory and ending with a cheesy lunch at the official restaurant.

Despite my previous disregard for chocolate, another sinfully indulgent chocolatier is Laderach. Among their enticing creations, my weakness for anything dark chocolate and nuts was unfairly exposed to their sinfully indulgent chocolate bark. In an assortment, you can try all the different flavored barks, from white chocolate with almonds and pistachios to milk chocolate with cornflakes to dark chocolate with hazelnuts, I hesitate to say you must definitely try it for yourself, though that means less for me. With our trip coming to a close, we enjoyed a last meal at the prestigious Kronenhalle restaurant and checked off Switzerland as a success.

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All in all, Switzerland’s exceptional amount of natural beauty, fairytale landscapes, polite people and cultural diversity have now made it one of the top places on my list of places to travel (and return).

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Do I recommend traveling to Switzerland? YES . More importantly, do I recommend seeing the world, taking chances and accepting adventure, even if that means flying half way around the world to stay with someone you met for six hours? ABSOLUTELY. Just one more invaluable advantage of traveling. This trip would not have been possible if not for our new, well now old, friend Daniel. So Daniel, thank you for everything. Thank you for your endless hospitality and energetic spirit. My family is forever grateful for having met you and cannot wait to see you again very soon. To Switzerland, to Daniel, to the best traveling buddy aka Dad, and to my next adventure; “alla prossima” , “bis zum nächsten Mal”, or until next time!

 

 

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