Just Back - Some Hints and Observations
DINING: We were warned about expensive eating - it's true. Some suggestions: try to get a hotel that includes breakfast, not as an added cost (often 20 chf P/P or more). We found many cafes & restaurants close at 2pm and reopen around 5, hard to find dining 2-5 pm. Try to catch a lunch special for a flat rate. Look into the local supermarket, MIGROS (Orange M) for snacks, deli items, sandwiches, good pricing and always busy with locals. Buy items that can be taken to your room; bread cheese, snacks, fruit. With caution eating can be done for 60 CHF per day for 2. Do splurge at least once & sample Swiss dishes, we ordered 3 dishes for 4 people (92 CHF) and split them so got a good idea of Swiss specialities at least once.
CALLING THE US FROM SWITZERLAND: Unless your cell is set up for it you won't be calling to the US. There are land line phone booths (YES) in the large cities and the phones work. The local tobacco shops sell a 5 & 10 CHF "Tax" card with a chip - insert the card in the slot in the pay phone, dial and you're in business, perhaps 5 short calls for the 5 CHF card - a real bargain.
THE LANGUAGE ISSUE: As we spoke a little French and less German this at times was a problem. Long as you remain in the main tourist areas and deal with hotels and tour operators you won't have a language issue. Not so in the small cafes, the smaller towns, off the beaten track stores but we managed to get by - do not assume everyone will understand you as an English speaker.
WATER: The 7 days we were there we found few water fountains - daily it was 80 degrees F or more and sunny - buying bottled water on the train, 4.95 CHF so we learned to keep a filled bottle on hand at all times.
TRANSPORTATION IN TOWN: Geneva, Lucerne and Zurich all had amazing tram/bus systems for going quickly and dependably in town. The hotel in Geneva provided a 2 day pass, our Swiss Travel Pass bought for 3 days provided free transport also - nothing to match this in most of the US - Zurich was especially impressive with their system.
AIR CONDITIONING: Little of it in our experience, 2 of our 3 hotels did, the 3rd did not and it was not very comfortable with 2 fans though late at night it was okay. If you're going when it might be warm make sure you inquire whether you have A/C or not. Most cafes, many restaurants, smaller stores - no A/C and on some of the intercity trains it was often very warm - while we were there.
WIFI: All 3 of our hotels had it for free and it worked very well. Like the US it seems most locals seem to spend a lot of time looking at their phones.
CREDIT CARDS: We used a chip card with no foreign transaction fee, no problem with acceptance, no need for a PIN either. Best way to get the most favorable exchange rate.
INTERCITY TRAINS: A mixed bag - always clean & punctual but sometimes very warm and crowded, sometimes no seats, lot of luggage, bicycles etc. When they have a light load a very nice experience. We found the riders move on and off very quickly and at our age, with baggage, sometimes a struggle to move fast enough, sometimes we just stood aside to get out of the way.
SUMMARY: I look at our pictures and cannot believe we were there - we did the Mt. Pilatus tour via our Swiss Pass for a reduced fee of 36 CHF each - unbelievable. Also the Panorama train from Montreux to Zweisimmen - nothing like it. You will be so happy to see what you can of this fantastic country, see what you can in the time you are able to stay. I cannot wait to return and take up where I left off.