We just finished a fifteen day trip to Switzerland, and it was great!! We went last year for eight days, and decided that was not enough, so we expanded it this year. The only downside was that we both got sick a few days before the end of the trip, and that caused us to drop several of our planned activities. I guess we’ll have to go back.
Regardless, we had a wonderful time, revisited a few places from before and went to several new places. We spent a lot of time researching and planning this year, using MySwissAlps – one of the best travel websites I’ve ever seen – and a few books for guidance. Our approach was to use Lucerne as our primary base, with day trips to other areas, perhaps an overnight stay or two, and use Zurich as our initial entry and departure point. We bought a 1 5-day Swiss Travel Pass, used the mobile SBB app (invaluable), and the Traveler’s WiFi (equally invaluable). Rather than establish a set itinerary, we let our interests and weather determine which area we would visit or what sites we wanted to see on any given day, and often changed plans midway, sort of a free form approach. We did this last year, and enjoyed the freedom and flexibility of touring day-by-day, and the Swiss Travel Pass, SBB app, and Traveler’s WiFi are essential to support this approach. Couldn’t do it without them.
I’ve tried to include sufficient details and impressions from our experiences, and apologize for the lengthy descriptions, but in reading other posts on the MSA site, I’ve appreciated specific details and observations to aid in planning one’s own trip.
Day 1 – Zurich.
We arrived mid-morning, picked up the Traveler’s WiFi at the airport, got some Swiss Francs from the ATM, and caught the train to the Zurich main station. After dropping our bags at the hotel, we went back to the train station, caught the #11 tram to the Burkliplatz boat dock at the southern end of the Bahnhofstrasse, and jumped on a boat just coming in and getting ready to leave for the Grosse Rundfahrt “long cruise”, a 4-hour round trip cruise. After settling in on the deck in the sunshine, we realized we both forgot our cameras; some tourists we are. This lake isn’t as interesting as Lake Lucerne, since the shorelines of the Zürichsee are almost wall to wall houses, apartments, condos, small businesses, little towns, etc. As you go farther south the development tails off a bit, and a couple stops on the west side are fairly small, including one at Halbinsel Au, which seems to be a stop at a hiking trailhead with nothing else around. Perhaps this is not unusual in Switzerland. We got off at Rapperswil after 2 hours and caught the train back to Zürich (38 minutes) for some much needed rest, having been up for about 32 hours by then.
Day 2 – Zurich & Vaduz.
Today was devoted to visiting Lichtenstein, simply because we’d never been there and it was so close. We caught the train to Sargan. Very nice countryside on the ride. Saw most of it yesterday from the boat standpoint but closer up it was very pretty. We got off the train and literally walked across the street and right on to the 12E bus to Vaduz. The Liechtenstein bus drivers are just as serious about schedules as the Swiss railroads because the driver pulled out on time when a potential passenger was 6 feet from the door. Funny, if you weren’t the guy who thought he was going to get on the bus.
We toured the town of Vaduz fairly quickly since it is so small. We had lunch at the “Made-In-Italy” restaurant, greeted by the owner with a hearty “No pizza today.” So, we had an antipasto for two and two small beers. Very good indeed, and the total bill was 27.90 CHF. And he threw in two small pieces of excellent Tiramisu on the house. Great little place. Small, workaday rustic decor, kind of warm, and it seemed that only locals were eating there. And it was packed.
We caught the bus back to Sargan, and got to see a ground level rainbow on the way back. I’ve never seen one before. It looked like it was only 40 feet high at its highest point. Caught the next train back to Zürich.
However, while at the Sargan train station, my wife noticed the toe cap and front part of the sole on her left hiking boot was not only loose but flopping in place. By the time we got back to Zürich, the right boot was in similar condition. We researched cobblers in Zurich and found a listing for Mr Minit, and it was located in the underground shopping area below the train station. We finally found it and he immediately and politely said that it couldn’t be repaired. So, she began looking for new boots. We eventually found some at Oschner Sport, a couple of blocks away. But it was not easy. In a surprising departure from Swiss efficiency, it is almost impossible to find any particular store in the two levels of below ground shopping mall located under the Zurich HB. We found one directory during our endless walks back & forth, and even it just listed stores and what level they were on but no map or any other location information to guide you to the actual store. Woefully inadequate for travelers who have no idea where they are.
But the surprise of the day was finding a four-team horse-drawn beer wagon full of wooden casks in the main hall of the train station, right in front of the Oktoberfest beer hall setup. What a treat that was. It took a few seconds to realize that, Yes, that is a horse drawn wagon full of wooden beer kegs, and another few seconds to get in position for pictures. That certainly got everyone’s attention.
Day 3 – Zurich & Lucerne.
We took a meandering morning walk through old town Zurich, stopping at one point to get our bearings so we could find the police station - only to realize we were standing right in front of it. We went there to view the Augusto Giacometti murals in the entrance hall: you have to leave your ID, take no pictures, and be done gawking in 10 minutes. The arched ceilings and upper parts of the walls are covered with a complex and colorful pattern of flowers and industrial cogs and gears, plus three themed murals, and is well worth the brief stop. After that, we wandered up into the cobbled streets of the pedestrian zone towards Lindenhof Park. Small but quite well done. A patch of greenery on a hill in the middle of the old city, with views of the river. Next up, we visited St. Peter’s church, the Fraumunster, and the Grossmunster, on the other side of the river. Each was worth the time, and although the Fraumunster gets a lot of attention for the Marc Chagall stained glass windows, it also has another large stained glass window done by Augusto Giacometti, the same guy who painted the murals in the police station. I liked it better than the Chagall windows.
We finished our walking tour of Zurich, picked up our bags from the hotel and headed to Lucerne. We checked into hotel in Lucerne and were delighted to find the current manager remembered us from our stay there last year, and upgraded our room. After dropping our bags, we went across the Reuss river to the Rathaus Brauerei for dinner, where the portions were satisfying and large.
Day 4 – Lucerne, Stanserhorn, Engelberg.
We caught a train to Stans to catch the cogwheel train & Cabrio gondola to the Stanserhorn. The live webcam showed clouds but higher altitude visibility when we left Luzern, but that diminished on the way up. The initial cogwheel train is a single open-air wooden car, that provides a great opportunity to hear the cowbell symphony on the ride up. Switching over to the Cabrio, we got drizzled on while riding on the exposed top deck, which my wife insisted upon; use your judgement, it may be better to ride inside. Shortly after we got to the top, it began lightly raining and dropped visibility to an official “not much.”
So, with the Stanserhorn mountain vistas overtaken by bad weather, we headed to Engelberg for a visit to the monastery & cheese factory. We wandered around Engelberg, window shopped, and had lunch at the Stokli bakery. Their cheese pizza, which is really more like a short dense quiche, was excellent. We caught the next express train back to Luzern, arriving, along with another 300-400 passengers, about 5 o’clock. The most surprising part of the ride to/from Engelberg is the quick glimpse of a jet fighter plane parked on the east side of the tracks just south of Niederrickenbach; look fast, you pass it quickly.
Day 5 – Lucerne,Lake Lucerne, Brunnen.
The skies were cloudy and gray and every webcam on a mountain top showed zero visibility (and even snow), so we headed across the river to the Lucerne farmers market and a stroll through the streets of old town. Some great looking produce for sure. We checked out the restaurants on the top floors of both the COOP and the Manor department stores. Both had really good selections, though it was a bit different to see horse meat as an option at the Manora for the hot stone “cook to order” station. We Americans are not used to that.
We then caught a boat going downlake, and encountered a very nice older Swiss gentleman from Bern, who was just traveling in a leisurely manner, as were we. He gave us quite a bit of advice, information tidbits and suggestions. He told us about the world’s steepest funicular just outside Brunnen, that goes to Stoos. However, since we couldn’t see much of any local mountaintops when we docked in Brunnen, we decided that would have to wait for another day. In the end we got off at Brunnen even though it was too late to visit the Victorinox outlet. No little bistro caught our eyes, so we headed to the train station to catch the express to Lucerne. And then watched it pull in, load up and leave, on the wrong platform. The SBB site, and station sign, had not refreshed to tell us the platform number had changed. Once our intended train pulled away, the SBB website and station signs instantly updated. Travel is always an adventure.
After catching the next train and dropping our backpacks at the hotel, we went to old town for dinner at Restaurant Fritschi. We ordered fondue and raclette, with a small side of rosti. Haven’t had any of that since last year. The raclette came as a plate with the raclette melted on it and the accompaniments (pickled onions, potatoes and pickle) laying on top. It was wonderful while hot, but unfortunately, it cooled much faster than one could eat it so in the end I had cool, stiff cheese. But very tasty cool stiff cheese. The traditional fondue was outstanding! We both raved over that. The rosti, by contrast, was very plain tasting, which I should have expected following the fondue and raclette.
Day 6 – Lucerne, Furigen, Stanserhorn.
Looking at the weather we can’t tell yet what the afternoon might bring so we decided to go to the Fort Fürigen museum, a defense installation dating to WWII. The facility was part of the Swiss National Redoubt, a bunker fortress inside a mountain that would hold troops, cannons, and even airplanes (though those were not at this location). We board the train to Stanstaad, get off and walk 25 minutes or so through town and along a lakeside road to the entrance. Old Swiss army coats are provided for those unprepared, as this tour is through a series of underground tunnels with wet stone walls, dripping water, and cool damp temps. The tour is really quite interesting with many interpretive signs, old cannon and machine gun emplacements, and artifacts. Quite cramped but all the essentials including ammo room, radio room, enlisted barracks, NCO and officer’s quarters, small med room, mess room & kitchen. Pretty spartan too. The tour takes more than an hour and we head back to the train station.
Looking at the surrounding hills and being so close to Stans and the Stanserhorn, we decide to go there and see if we get lucky with the weather after being busted the other day. Up we go on the cogwheel and the Cabrio - both of us standing on top on the way up. The clouds have lifted enough at the top for us to see other peaks and countryside. We decide, since it is fairly clear, to walk to the top observation point, the Stanserhorn Panorama, at 6300 feet in elevation. A bit of huffing and puffing on the way up. My wife decided we wanted to take a short walk around the hill to get back to the restaurant area - which turned out to be much longer than the relatively short walk up. Nice views but the walk up to the panorama point took it out of us. We finally got back to the cafeteria for a well-deserved coffee and sit down at an outer table. And the round, raised floor in the middle of the cafeteria actually revolves; very slowly, but it does. A tad mystifying until you realize it is moving. We are first in line for the top deck of the Cabrio headed down, in place for prime photo ops, and then caught the train back to Lucerne.
Day 7 – Lucerne, Mt. Titlis, Hergiswil.
The early morning weather is blue skies and sun, so we head to the train station to catch a ride to Engelberg for a trip up Mt. Titlis. We hop off the train and hike over to the gondola station and get a gondola all to ourselves. We could have gotten off at the midpoint, at Trübsee, and walked around the lake but it was a bit chilly and we are still worried about clouds coming in. We get off the gondola and in line for the Rotair- the rotating cable car. We get a standing spot right along the window so plenty of opportunity for photos. Once at the top we walk out on to the Cliff Walk, a suspension walking bridge. It sways a bit for sure and was very crowded. The clouds moved in steadily after we got off the Rotair and began to obscure a good portion of some views.
We were at 10,000 feet in elevation and both of us were feeling it walking around so much, although it was fun walking in the snow for a change, and even funnier watching other people walk in the snow who are definitely not used to walking in the snow. After a restorative cup of coffee, we head back down. Once again, we get a place right at the window on the Rotair, but although she tries, my wife can’t talk me into getting off at Trübsee to rent a rowboat and take a little cruise around the lake.
We catch the train to Lucerne not knowing what else we might do today. My wife however is never at a loss for ideas, and decides we should go to the Glasi museum in Hergiswil, a 100+ year old glass manufacturing factory. We take the fully automated tour, which was done quite well, and learn that the main factory went out of business some years ago. It now employs several hundred people in a 24/7 year-round operation of glass blowing. We were disappointed that the glass blowers were on break when we got to that part of the tour so didn’t get to see any actual glass blowing take place. And it sure is a lot warmer in the furnace/glass blowing room than in the rest of the building.
Back to the train station to catch the local back to Lucerne. We head to the hotel to drop off the backpacks, do a bit of grocery shopping at the COOP, and head over to the Syrtaki Greek restaurant for dinner. I had moussaka and she had chicken and mushrooms in a white sauce with orzo pasta. Both were very good.
Day 8 – Lucerne, Schilthorn, Kleine Scheidegg.
This turned out to be a long day. We caught the 8:06 train to Interlaken OST, then the train to Lauterbrunnen, then the bus to Stechelberg. Picked up the gondola lift tickets to cover the four gondolas required to get to the top; which is fortunately free with a STP. First two gondolas were severely packed, as in can barely move packed, but the last two were a bit less jammed. It was obvious a lot of people wanted to visit the mountain top where the “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” James Bond movie was filmed. Although we weren’t in the clouds at Piz Gloria, there was a regional cloud layer that basically cut off the tops of all the highest surrounding peaks. So, no sunshine for us, but that didn’t stop us from taking multiple photos, including the typical tourist shots. I even took pictures of the other tourists taking tourist shots. Fortunately, the gondolas on the way down were much less crowded.
Back to Lauterbrunnen by bus, then decided to take a train up to Kleine Scheidegg via Wengen and have lunch instead of coming all the way back a second day to do the grannie’s walk from Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg. But the real reason for visiting Kleine Scheidegg was to get an order of rosti, like we had there when we were skiing in Grindelwald many years ago. Current offerings did not disappoint. I had the Bernese version with bacon, fried egg, and cheese mixed in. My wife had the 3-sausage sampler with onion sauce and basic rosti; mine was better. Sitting there enjoying the good food, good beer, in warm afternoon sunshine was just great. Oh, and the direct views of the Eiger Monch, and Jungfrau enhanced the moment. It seems the sun came out all over the region about 1 hour after we got to the bottom of the valley and began heading up to Kleine Scheidegg. Kind of disappointing we didn’t have full sun at the top of the Schilthorn mountain while we were there, but that’s the way the weather dice roll sometimes. Took the late afternoon train back down to Lauterbrunnen, then Interlaken OST, and finally back to Lucerne at 7:55 pm. A very long day indeed.
Day 9 – Lucerne, Lake Lucerne.
A rainy day in Lucerne, so after breakfast we head across the street to the Rosengart museum, which was featuring their primary collection of Picasso drawings & paintings. Of one entire floor, plus part of another, I liked exactly one. The guy certainly was creative, but I guess I’m not much of an art aficionado. What I did discover was a very small Calder mobile, which I liked very much. It was raining even harder by now so we went down to the train station and hopped a train to the Swiss Transport Museum. There was a very large crowd there, lots of kids, school groups, families etc., but a fairly fast-moving line to get tickets. We toured the train section, the car section, and the aviation section, which I liked the best.
After being culturally and historically enlightened, we decided it was time for a boat ride, convenient since the boat docks are next to the Transport museum, and hopped a boat headed down lake. A scenic and comfortable ride inside. We eventually got off at Brunnen, and caught a train back to Lucerne. By now, my wife is unfortunately beginning to show signs of an impending cold, which is not a good sign.
Day 10 – Lucerene.
A very slow day since my wife is really under the weather and sleeps until midafternoon. After leaving her with an array of orange juice, hot tea, and small breakfast items in the morning, I take several walks around Lucerne, both in old town and newer sections. In the old town section, I happened to stop at a jewelry store window selling watches. I thought 5,000 CHF was expensive for a wristwatch. Until I saw the 15,000 watches, then the 26,000 watches, then the 40,000 watches. And, finally, the 80,000 CHF watches (!!!!!). Clearly, I was in the wrong economic zone.
During the walks around the newer sections of Lucerne, I found the Made in Sud Italian restaurant. Once my wife felt good enough to get up in the afternoon, I convinced her a short walk would do her good, as would a little food even though she “wasn’t hungry.” By fortuitous circumstance, we ended up at Made in Sud (she loves Italian food) just as they opened at 5 pm. I had spaghetti Carbonara and a glass of house red, she had an Insalata Mista salad and an Arancini with Ragu (fried rice ball with meat sauce inside). We finished off with a coffee each and split a tiramisu. Total bill? 42 CHF. Quite a bargain.
Day 11 – Lucerne & Pilatus.
A nice sunny day and she is feeling a bit better, so we decide to visit Mt. Pilatus. We took the bus to the Kriens Pilatusbahn, walked uphill about 15 minutes, and got to the lower gondola ticket office right behind 4 tour buses. However, it didn’t take all that long to get tickets. Up we went on the first ski area type gondola (4 person), then switched to the bigger gondola that only takes a few minutes to steeply rise to the top of the mountain. Although it was sunny, it was still chilly outside, especially with the wind blowing. We did the dragon walk tunnel, took multiple pics, and emerged onto the big plaza. She missed getting a shot of the three guys playing the alpenhorns: they quit just as she got in position for the photo. She did, however, get a short video of a couple playing zithers (sort of a multi-stringed harp in a horizontal wooden frame). Not quite the same effect. While at the top, we sat by the big windows overlooking Lucerne and the lake, and sampled two local Lucerne beers, an Eichhof Lager and an Eichhof Goldbrau: the Goldbrau was the better of the two. I was saved by the waitress informing me that one of the beers I was going to order was really a cider and the other was a beer/lemonade mix.
We took the cogwheel train back down to Alpnachstad, and had an Erdinger Weisse beer on the outside patio while we discussed whether to take a train or boat back to Lucerne. The boat left before we finished our beers, so the train it was. It was very pleasant sitting in the sunshine at the Chalet Cafe Pilatus, conveniently located mere steps from the Pilatus Bahn station and the train station, and an additional two minute walk to the boat dock. Talk about collocation, the Swiss certainly know how to do that.
Day 12 – Lucerne, Schwyz, Stoos
Although my wife is still not feeling 100%, it is a nice sunny warm day, so we caught a train to Brunnen, then a bus to Schwyz for shopping at the Victorinox factory store (Mythen Center bus stop). We find a few items, all from the “seconds” discount bins, and head back to the Brunnen Bahnhof to catch what I thought was the right bus for the new “rolling tin cans” funicular to Stoos. Well, bus #4 to the Morschach Luftselbahn stop to catch the Telstar Luftselb, is not where we really wanted to go. The Morschach Luftselb is one of the older original ski area gondolas, holding probably 10-12 people on the way up to the mountain village of Stoos. Interestingly enough, it was unstaffed at the bottom. The two gondolas running do so automatically every 15 minutes or so. You pay for your ride at the top station, which is staffed, but it is free with the STP. Once at the top, we wandered around a bit – Stoos is not that big – and found the top station for the new funicular. More importantly, we found an open outdoor lunch shop with picnic tables, regional offerings, and cold beer. In the spirit of going with the moment that guides our wandering, we went right in and sat down. It is the Gasthaus Balmberg Mosi-Bar, established 1880. The goulash soup is very good, but the French fries, although they look wonderful on the plate, are not. The local beers were very tasty. We tried the Einsiedler Maisgold Spezialbier and the as Gaachs Muotathaler Wildheubier. The Wildheuber was slightly better.
After sufficient restoration of spirits, we walked over to the upper funicular station and got in line. It is a very futuristic looking cogwheel train, running at a maximum gradient of 47.7 degrees, and only takes about 5 minutes going down. The four individual cars, shaped like cans laid on their side, rotate as the gradient increases or decreases, keeping the floors level. Very slick, and covered under the STP too. Once at the bottom, I realized the name of the bus stop I really wanted was the Schwyz Stoosbahn (Talstation), via bus #1 from the Schwyz Bahnhof; bus #1 is also the correct bus back to Schwyz. Once we got all that figured out, it was really too late to catch a boat back to Luzern from Brunnen so we just hopped the train from Schwyz back to Lucerne.
Day 13 – Lucerne.
I wake up and discover I too have come down with “the crud.” Long story short, I stayed in bed nearly all day sleeping. My wife heads off to the pharmacy after breakfast hoping to get some more over-the-counter medicines, but they are closed on Sundays. And so, it was a quiet day hanging out in the hotel. I sleep most of the day, until about 4 or so. We end up taking a very short walk to get some fresh air. We also begin to pack a few things for our return to Zurich tomorrow. The STP gets no use today.
Day 14 – Lucerne & Zurich
Neither one of us is feeling well. Whatever cold germs we caught linger for days and just sap your energy. We had a small breakfast, finished packing, and took one last slow walk thru old town Lucerne. We also went back to the pharmacy, now open, to resupply the cold & sinus medications, then off to the train station for the ride back to Zurich. It was a beautiful sunny day in Zurich, about 75 degrees, and had we not been feeling so tired, we would have no doubt done a short boat ride or taken a leisurely walk around old town. But, due to illness, went with Plan B, which was to have warm drinks while reclining in the chaise lounges on the hotel balcony while reading (and drafting these notes). Not how we planned to end our trip.
Day 15 – Zurich & Home
Still feeling bad, so not much to report here. Catch a train to the airport, turn in the Traveler’s WiFi, check in, and wait for the flight. The usual short flight, a couple hour layover, and a long flight back to the US. By the time we got home, it was 4:30am Zurich time the following day, and it sure felt like it.
By the end of our trip, we had taken 26 trains, 4 cogwheel trains, 11 gondolas, 3 boats, 8 buses, and one tram. It would have been even more if we hadn’t lost days due to illness. While that sounds like we were doing nothing except charging from one transport vehicle to another, in fact none of it was hurried. It is simply the sum of the trips we took as we felt like taking them. Everything except the Pilatus and Titlis gondolas and the Kleine Scheidegg train were covered in full under the STP, and those offered a significant discount.
Despite getting sick near the end of our trip, we had a wonderful time. It was well worth going back, and we will probably do so again in another year or two, to get to those areas we planned on but didn’t get to this year. Can’t wait.
A few final recommendations:
1. Use the MSA website to get ideas, research options, and get practical advice on how to travel, get money, and act while in Switzerland. This site has a wealth of information.
2. If you are in the least spontaneous, get a full fare STP. If not, at least consider it along with other options. Either way, get the mobile SBB app for your phone/iPad/laptop.
3. Get the Traveler’s WiFi. It worked everywhere we went, and the SBB app is pretty useless without the Internet connection.
4. Don’t forget electrical adaptors. We took three & used them all.
5. In addition to any prescribed medications, take along medications you think you might need (cold, sinus, allergy, etc.) Although these are certainly available in Switzerland, it is a lot easier if you already have them in hand when needed. Or if you need it on a Sunday.
6. Use the local weather forecasts and mountain cams before heading out for the day.
7. If you plan on visiting a particular establishment because you read it about somewhere, double check to make sure it is still in business or in the same location. Just in case.