Maggie's December trip report - Christmas markets

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maggiehorswell
maggiehorswell
624 posts
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Dec 17, 2016 - 3:22 PM

Hello everyone and Merry Christmas to you all.

We have just spent the first week of December in Switzerland visiting Christmas markets. We based ourselves in Biel/Bienne in the Best Western Hotel Continental as we have stayed there before and it is very convenient for train travelling. There is a frequent tram service from the station direct to the hotel. While the hotel seems to cater mostly for business customers, it is comfortable (nice big rooms, comfortable beds, generous breakfast, good en-suite etc.) and not too expensive. The staff are very helpful and friendly, going out of their way to give good service.

I have been experiencing some sight problems which affect me particularly at night so we had to be careful not to stay at the markets late as twinkling lights cause me to have some focussing problems - must have looked a bit odd wandering around in the dark wearing sunglasses to reduce glare! However we still had a good time! I based our itinerary on the research I had done to find the operating dates for the markets we wished to visit which apart from one exception proved successful – more of that later! We had visited a lot of the best-known markets like Basel on a previous holiday in 2010 so our aim was to go to some different ones this time.

On our arrival in Zurich (1st Dec.) we took the train from the airport to Zurich main station where we put our luggage in a locker and explored the market in the station hall, having lunch there at one of the stalls. The Swarovski decorated Christmas tree is quite beautiful. Then we collected our luggage to take a direct train to Biel to check in to the hotel. We had bought some sandwiches to have for supper – we did this most days as eating out in the evenings in Switzerland is rather expensive!

On our 2nd day we went first by train to Trubschachen where there was a small but excellent market near the Kambly biscuit factory. We enjoyed some delicious soup in a refreshment tent and admired the lovely crafts on sale in the market itself. Really glad we visited this one as the atmosphere and variety of goods on display were special. We travelled on by train to Lucerne to visit the market in the station. This was very similar to Zurich but smaller – wouldn’t have been worth going there if we hadn’t combined it with the earlier visit to Trubschachen. We decided to take the long route back via Meiringen and Interlaken on one of our favourite train routes.

Next day we went to Einsiedeln. The market here was huge, stretching all the way up from the station to the square in front of the Kloster. We found a great variety of goods on sale and bought some unusual gifts to take home. A delicious lunch included battered apple fritters – really tasty! The local Rotary Club had set up a brazier in the middle of the square and were selling gluhwein – lovely smells permeating the whole square. This day was a real highlight of our trip.

On the 4th we went to St. Gallen – we enjoyed looking at the impressive buildings as well as wandering around the market which was again quite different from others we visited. We were back quite early so Mike went to check out the local market in Biel but it had closed quite early so there wasn’t much to see!

On the Monday we went first to Uetendorf (near Thun) so that we could meet up with the lady who runs the holiday apartment we will be using in the summer next year as our usual hosts can’t rent us their apartment because they need it themselves for family reasons. We had investigated sending our deposit through bank transfer but as we don’t do on-line banking it was proving to be both complicated and expensive so we contacted the owner to see if we could hand over the deposit in cash while we were in the country and she agreed to meet us. We enjoyed a long chat with her over coffee and she was very kind and helpful. Then we went to Bern to visit the markets there. We had a (very!) late lunch in a restaurant we have been to before. After wandering again we returned to Biel where Mike discovered he had left his spectacles behind in the restaurant – yet another mishap with spectacles! The hotel receptionist phoned the restaurant to see if they had indeed found them which they had so Mike had to hurry off by train back to Bern to retrieve them!

The next day according to my research there should have been a market to visit in Morges but when we got there we found they were not open that day so we travelled on from there to Montreux – we had intended going there anyway after Morges. Montreux was one of our favourite markets in 2010 which is why we wanted to return there. It is a large market with a French flair to it and has some of the best market food so an enjoyable place for lunch! Its setting by the lake is also a treat. In one of the gardens we found some impressive sculptures – they were celebrating 150 years of gymnastics and had created models (metal covered with greenery) of gymnasts using all the apparatus used in competition. Very clever! Again we found some unusual gift ideas but had to restrain our spending because of luggage space.

On our final full day we tried Morges again only to find it wouldn’t open till 4 p.m. (contrary to the research I had done!) So we returned to Biel as we hadn’t yet explored the market there. Enjoyed some really tasty soup for lunch. Then we decided that as we had only taken one suitcase with us and our air fares entitled us to one each we would solve our over-enthusiastic spending problem and buy a small suitcase for our extra luggage – we took it back to the hotel and went back to Montreux to buy the the things we had wanted but hadn’t had space for! It certainly made packing easier that night.

After breakfast next morning we paid our bill and while Mike went for a walk down to the lake I chilled out in the hotel lounge with a cup of tea and my book until it was time to catch our train to the airport.

So apart from the incorrect information meaning we didn’t get to visit the market at Morges and Mike’s mishap with the spectacles, a very successful trip! We had a 2nd class Swiss Travel Pass which covered all our travel and allowed us to change plans as and when we liked and saved us a lot of money over point-to point tickets. The weather was kind to us – no rain at all, though some days were foggy and it was cold – no problem if you wear suitable clothes! Another fabulous Swiss experience to add to our collection. We have visited Germany several times at this time of year but decided to have a change by returning to Switzerland and really enjoyed the variety and individuality that Swiss markets have to offer.

Now the planning for next summer can start in earnest, though accommodation, flights and Swiss Travel Passes are already taken care of! It’s just a matter of researching our expeditions and train times. We will have 1st class passes for the summer as it will be high season. We will spend the first week in St. Moritz again then 3 weeks in the apartment in Uetendorf I mentioned earlier.

A very Merry Christmas to all and happy travelling in 2017!

Maggie

Annika
Annika
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Dec 18, 2016 - 1:54 PM

Hi Maggie,

So happy to hear from you again! We're glad to learn that Mike and you have spent yet another great week in Switzerland. It's quite a different experience from a summer vacation, but worthwhile nonetheless, especially if you're such Christmas markets fans. Switzerland indeed has some very nice and atmospheric markets and you certainly managed to visit lots of them during a week's stay. Too bad the one in Morges didn't work out for you, but there were many alternatives. The extra suitcase you bought proves there were simply too many nice gifts - I fully understand :-).

I'm sure to refer other visitors who are keen on Christmas markets to your trip report.

I'm sorry you've been experiencing some health issues. I hope they're only temporary, and that you'll get to enjoy Switzerland next summer with clear views and healthy eyes. Too bad the apartment in Thun won't be available, but I'm glad you've found yourselves a good alternative in Uetendorf. Happy planning, and let us know in case you need help preparing for your stay there or in St. Moritz!

Removed user
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Jan 14, 2017 - 4:29 PM in reply to maggiehorswell

Hi Maggie,

Thanks for your trip report on the Christmas markets, I enjoyed reading it, and have added quite a few of them to my "list" in case I am in Switzerland at the right time of the year on a future trip.

Sorry to hear about your sight problems :( The Christmas markets are so atmospheric at night - what a shame that it affects you so badly. However, it is clear that you had a great time regardless, which I am glad to hear!

I was also back in Switzerland around Christmas, from 21 December to 26 December, and went to the Christmas Markets at Zürich Hauptbahnhof and Luzern Bahnhof. I must admit I prefer the outdoor markets to the indoor ones, but there's something to be said for being under cover in inclement weather! As you mentioned, the market in Luzern Bahnhof was very small. Apparently there was another market at Franziskanerplatz, but it had closed the day before we were there. The Christmas lights in the Zürich Bahnhofstrasse were lovely, but we had to go back to see them later in the evening, as they hadn't yet been turned on when we first went looking, around 4.30pm after a cruise on the Zürichsee.

>> After wandering again we returned to Biel where Mike discovered he had left his spectacles behind in the restaurant – yet another mishap with spectacles! The hotel receptionist phoned the restaurant to see if they had indeed found them which they had so Mike had to hurry off by train back to Bern to retrieve them!

I remember the last incident you described as well, and I have also witnessed remarkable helpfulness from the Swiss in similar situations.

When I was boarding the train up to Pilatus last August, the person in front of me dropped her sunglasses onto the track below the train. She looked so disappointed, but was resigned to the fact that they couldn't be retrieved. However, after the train left, one of the staff picked the sunglasses up from the track and brought them up in a following train, handing them back to her at the halfway stop!

Then at St Moritz, I was waiting one morning with several other people at the bus stop outside the Youth Hostel. We all boarded the bus, which then does a U-turn just past the hostel to go back into the main part of town. That meant we drove past the stop where we had just got on, and the driver saw a pair of sunglasses sitting on the seat at the bus stop. He stopped the bus and called out to the passengers to see if the sunglasses belonged to any of them. They did, and the person jumped out of the bus to get them before we continued on our way!

And finally, an incident that affects me more closely! My (adult) son accompanied me on my Christmas trip to Wengen, and left his backpack on the train when we were changing trains at Lauterbrunnen. We had already boarded the Wengen train on platform 4 before he realised. The train we had arrived on was still sitting on platform 1, so he jumped off the Wengen train and raced back to platform 1 in the hope of retrieving his backpack. Meanwhile I got off the Wengen train with both our suitcases in case he didn't get back before it left, which was pretty likely!

As he arrived on platform 1 and jumped onto the train, it pulled out on its way back to Interlaken Ost! Luckily he eventually found the right carriage and retrieved his backpack: but was now on a train heading in the wrong direction - and without a valid ticket, as we had been using point-to-point Supersaver tickets for our journey from Luzern to Wengen!

The conductor was so kind and helpful, even to the extent of ringing the conductor on the train my son would have to take back to Lauterbrunnen from Zweilütschinen, to ensure that he could travel back without any problems due to lack of a ticket.

Eventually he arrived back at Lauterbrunnen (thank goodness for the frequency of services!) and we continued our journey to Wengen. As our Supersaver tickets were no longer valid, I had to buy additional tickets from Lauterbrunnen to Wengen, but they were not expensive, and the purchase was easily accomplished in the SBB Mobile app while sitting on Platform 4 waiting for the next train to Wengen.

The Swiss really do look after their visitors!!

Alpenrose

Last modified on Jan 14, 2017 - 4:45 PM by Arno
maggiehorswell
maggiehorswell
624 posts
top member
Jan 17, 2017 - 1:17 PM in reply to Removed user

Hi Alpenrose, good to hear from you again.

Glad to hear we are not the only people to leave things on trains! We had a backpack experience a few years ago - we had arrived in Lucerne on train from Bern and had walked along the platform towards the railhead when Mike realised he had left his backpack in the carriage some several carriages back so went rushing off to retrieve it! I can't remember now whether we were planning to go to Rigi by boat or catch another train to Engelberg but I remember we only just made it by the skin of our teeth!

During this last trip we were heading to catch a train to Lucerne from Trubschachen - I set off to the platform but Mike needed to visit the conveniences - the train came in and I was hanging about on the verge of boarding but not wanting to leave him behind! The conductor saw this elderly lady standing by the door which had closed for departure and an elderly gentleman running (sort of!) trying to reach the platform so he opened the door for me and signalled to Mike he would wait for him! So kind! Certainly not what would happen here in UK!

We did manage to get separated on one occasion though - we had to change trains in Lausanne on the way from Montreux back to Biel - a simple change across same platform but rushed because first train arrived late. I dashed across - it was rush hour so lots of passengers - assuming Mike was right behind me and got on train and started to look for seats but when I sat down he wasn't behind me! I tried phoning him but battery low! I texted "where are you? are you on train?" but got no reply! I didn't want to get off in case he was on the train looking for me! The train left then I eventually got response that he was still in Lausanne! Station personnel gave him time and departure details for next train to Biel so he followed on an hour or so later! I didn't hang around in Biel station for an hour - just went back to hotel! At least we had separate travel passes so that wasn't a problem - it could have been a few years ago when the Saver passes were still available for travelling together!

Turning my attention now to the summer trip. Will need to check itineraries researched for previous years against updated sbb timetable and alter departure times to travel from Uetendorf instead of Thun! So quite a bit of work to do. Keep me busy during these dark winter days in UK.

Best wishes

Maggie

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Jan 17, 2017 - 10:30 PM in reply to maggiehorswell

Ah... travel mishaps! They can be stressful at the time, but interesting to think back on later!

Happy planning for your 2017 trip! It will be some years before I make it back to Switzerland I expect, but reading and contributing to the MySwissAlps forum will help with the "Fernweh".

Alpenrose

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