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Welcome to Switzerland

Being a relatively small country, it is easy to fit pretty much all of what Switzerland has to offer on one page, rather than divide it up into cities or regions. So here goes.....

ZURICH
Like many of Switzerland's beautiful cities and towns, Zurich is situated on the edge of a lake - Zurichsee. Fantastic during summer, the water is clean, fresh and expansion. I know this because I swam 3.8kms of it to start the Zurich Ironman in June 2007. Having visited the city during this time, we decided to spend some of the holiday season in Zurich and experience it during the winter. It was also a good excuse to visit a friend who had moved there from Sydney. In winter at least, Zurich doesn't offer a great deal to do except shopping. There are streets and alleyways full of everything from designer brands, mass market clothing and cosmetic stores and plenty of shoe stores. Prices for those items are normal for Europe, but the cost of eating and drinking in Zurich (and all of Switzerland) can be very high.  However, Zurich does offer plenty of supermarkets like COOP and Migros to stock up. Being in the German-speaking area of Switzerland means that there is no shortage of beer, grilled bratwurst sausages and pretzels that you can buy and enjoy on the street too.

Zurich is an array of nice old buildings, combined with some modern and interesting architecture. It's quite peaceful and easy to get around, either walking, catching the tram or trolley bus. Driving and parking can be a bit of a nightmare though.

We were there for New Year's Eve and rather than spending 150 - 200 CHF on a set menu in a restaurant, as most places offer for this one night, we ate at home with a couple of bottles of champagne, then headed down to the edge of the lake to watch the fireworks at midnight. A pretty impressive show. However, during the day we notice that lots of street vendors were establishing themselves around the prime viewing areas on the lake, so trust it could be quite rowdy in the run up to midnight. But I imagine, fairly sedate compared to Paris, Rome or London (and with far less firecrackers than The Netherlands which is like a war zone).

DAVOS / KLOSTERS
Most likely stunning in the spring and summer months, Davos and Klosters are best known for their ski fields and that's exactly why we were visiting them. Essentially right next door to each other, these ski fields are approx 1.5hrs drive from Zurich, so an easy day trip if you feel like driving. There is also a train that runs right up to the gondalas in each location, so that is also an option. We didn't make a day trip, but nor did we stay on the mountains as reasonably-priced accommodation was impossible to come by. We thought most people most like book a place for a week at least a year in advance, having both Christmas and New Year there. The closest place we found a hotel was Chur, a small but nice town about 45mins drive south from Klosters. Stayed at Hotel ABC (no, not a name the oozes luxury) that was 4* and excellent, right in the middle of town and easy to find. Easy walking to a couple of good restaurants also. As skiing in winter finishes at 4pm (when it gets dark), we were always back in Chur around 5pm.

Davos

The quaint village of Davos....it's snowing!

We skiied Klosters for two days and had a great time. Wide open runs, although a little icy with no recent snow, perfect weather, and fine places for lunch (bratwurst with rosti, which is sort of like fried, mashed potato with bacon). The skiing is immediate (but challenging enough for us!) with red and blue runs mostly. The top is reached by gondala in about 30mins depending on crowds and a one-day lift ticket is 61 CHF (about 40 euro). The best part is a 14km trail all the way back down to Klosters , where you instantly kick off the skis and grab a beer or gluwein to warm you up.

Although a third day skiing was planned, the weather came in a visibility was low. Sore bodies made the decision to abandon very easy, so we spent the day in Davos. Again, a nice town, upmarket with some great hotels and plenty of Range Rovers and Mercedes driving the streets. Worth a visit if you can't ski for a day.

Nicki and Gibbo in Davos
Nicki and Gibbo in Davos

LUCERN

After leaving the ski fields and Zurich behind, we headed to other parts of Switzerland to see what it has to offer. First stop, just for a day & night, was Lucern. Like Zurich and many other places in Switzerland (including Montreaux which is coming up next), Lucern is on a pristine lake that is surrounded by mountains. As you can see in some of the photographs, the city has 'old, worldly Swiss charm' with many old but renovated buildings that are used for residences and offices. A long way from the moden skyscrapers found in many other cities. Switzerland is known for it's financial institutions and watches, so you see a lot of gold plaques on buildings with the names of banks, next door to a store loaded with Rolex and Tag Huer watches.

Lucern is a place to wander. Around the lake, or on it with many cruises offered in summer, through the cobbled streets and moden performance hall next to the main railway station (which is also very modern, surprisingly), through some of the ancient churches, or up a very small hill to see the dying lion carved into the rock to honour those soldiers killed in battle. All in all, a very easy city to walk around and, unless you use it for day-trip elsewhere, you can see the place in a day.

Nicki and Belinda in Lucern

Nicki and Belinda in Lucern

MONTREAUX

The lakeside town (not city) of Montreaux is not your usual tourist destination. However, we chose it because 1) we had heard that a lot of conferences take place there and you don't have conferences without 'side attractions' for the delegates, 2) it was a good point for which to explore Geneva and Lausanne, and 3) they speak French so we could practice. Upon arrival, we found it to be very picturesque, with an apparantly well-known casino (which we visited for dinner one night but were overcome very quickly by the cigarette smoke!), but fairly quite and not as upmarket as we thought. Our hotel was a short taxi ride from the train station and right on the lake, so it offered amazing views from the rooms. The hotel was one of those that would have been very grand in its day, with high ceilings, antique furniture and fittings, and lounges where you would take tea and gaze out onto the lake. Comfortable but a bit dated. It did offer free movies during the visit though so after an early dinner (it was winter so you tend to go out around 6pm) you could come back to the room and watch a movie for free, instead of the normal hotel charges of 10 euro. In addition, Nicki was sick one day so was confined to bed and a few videos to pass the day (Gibbo visited Lausanne that day - see below).

Montreaux was nice and fitted our purposes. Although winter, the days were clear and the views spectacular. Splendid for walking in and out of town along the lake. It's Switzerland, so nothing is really very cheap, even in the off-season. Many places were also closed (especially on Sundays!) but I suspect it's very lively in the springtime onwards.

Lake Geneve from Montreux
The beautiful Lake Geneve from Montreux

Sunset on Lake Geneve
Sunset on Lake Geneve

The small lakeside town of Montreux
The small lakeside town of Montreux

LAUSANNE

Most of Lausanne seems to be built on the side of a steep hill (leading away from, surprisingly, a lake) and from the train station up to the main part of the city, it could be hard going. If you were driving, you'd want to ensure the handbrake works for those hill starts! The main reason (for us) to visit Lausanne is it's the home of the Olympic Games, although it has never actually hosted one in more than a hundred years, and has the offices of the IOC and a fanscinating Olympic museum. The museum is alongside the lake, so pretty easy to find, and directly downhill from the train station (although it's a good 'climb' back up). If you're interested in the Olympics, then the museum is a must. It has wirtten information and some equipment from every single summer and winter Olympic Games, including medals and torches. There is also a great range of videos and models of planned Olympic infrastructure that never quite passed the test (or the country lost the bid!). Aim on spending a good couple of hours in the museum, depending on what temporary exhibition is featured. When Nicki visited in 2000, it was the Tour de France, but this time it was all forms of sailing. Great for sailing enthusiasts, but not that exciting for cyclists.

One of the most stunning aspects of going to Lausanne is the train ride from Montreaux. Sit on the correct side (left if going there, right when coming back) and you experience 30mins of uninterrupted lake views, with much of the trip seemingly going along the shoreline. The city of Lausanne features some beautiful apartments and offices, and like all cities, there is clearly an upmarket area where wealthly bankers live. Overall, the city itself is quite affluent, but the shopping area is just the same as any other European city. Not that much more for tourists, but again, good for a day trip.


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