The trip report for week 1 of our 5 week trip from Australia in May/June follows.
Firstly, a big thankyou to the myswissalps website, team, and contributors for all the information provided, it was a massive help in planning our trip. We usually like to travel independently where possible, and I cannot recommend enough the benefits of detailed research in helping to ensure a great trip.
We purchased two 15 day, and one 4 day full Swiss Travel Pass. The calculations on the website spreadsheet showed that the Half Fare Card would be the cheapest option for our expected itinerary, but we opted for the full pass for the convenience of not having to buy tickets as we went. This was great, as we just hopped on and off at will, and our expected itinerary did change now and then due to the weather, of which we had all sorts - rain, cloud, storms, and some clear sunny days.
On arrival we checked out the Salt SIM card, but decided not to worry about it and just use the hotels WiFi, and this worked out fine. We used the SBB app, and would take a photo of the timetable when back at our hotel so we could refer to it whilst travelling. We often visited the SBB information offices (they would print out train timetables for us to take with us), and the Tourist Offices, which were all great sources of directions and information, with lovely friendly staff.
Credit cards are accepted pretty much everywhere. We use a 28 degree Mastercard which has no foreign transaction fees – we use it specifically for travelling. We withdrew 1000 CHF cash out at an ATM, but didn’t need anywhere near that amount, a couple of hundred would’ve done.
For our accommodation we used Hotels.com, Booking.com, and booked through some hotels direct. We booked hotels that supplied breakfast. I would recommend all of them. All were within about 15 minutes walk from the railway stations, except for our last two nights in Zurich. We treated ourselves to two nights at mountain hotels - Berghaus Diavolezza, and Kulmhotel Gornergrat – amazing experiences being on the mountain at sunset and sunrise with hardly anyone around, and so quiet and peaceful once the day-trippers went back down. To break up the long flights we had two nights either side in Singapore.
Switzerland is expensive (especially with the Aussie $ being so low), but the scenery is worth every cent (or franc!) I reckon. The Coop and Migros supermarkets have pre-packaged salads, rolls/sandwiches, pizza slices, pastas, baked chicken etc, which we used to keep food costs down. We had big breakfasts from the hotel buffets, picnics for lunch, and for dinner we sometimes bought baked chicken and a salad from the Coop, or a pizza or kebab from a takeaway shop and picnicked outside e.g. on the lakefront in Lugano and Locarno. We also used the supermarkets for snacks such as nuts and dried fruit.
We bought some Swiss Army knives as gifts for family at home, and some shops will engrave the knives for free – a nice personal touch. We also used the supermarkets for gifts/souvenirs such as chocolate, usually cheaper than the specialty stores (and there’s no such thing as bad Swiss chocolate, right!). It’s also worth checking out the railway station shops as they have some good items at reasonable prices too.
In summary, we had an amazing trip, and sometimes the scenery was so beautiful that I could not believe what my eyes were seeing!
Day 1 - 15/5/19 – Singapore to Zurich (Flight time 13.25 hours)
Swiss Travel Pass activated today. Got the train to Zurich main station. Everything was really green, beautiful yellow fields, were told they were rapeseed crops used for canola oil and biofuel. Got glimpses of snowy mountains in the distance. Pretty cool, wind fresh, but not too bad, a bit hazy and cloudy. Stayed at the Hotel Scheuble, but couldn’t check in yet, so left bags and walked back to the station to get the train to Schloss Laufen am Rheinfall. Farms everywhere just out of the city, and along the rail line heaps of great community gardens with veggies, flowers, chickens, and little sheds to keep all the tools in. Walked down to the waterfall and bought boat tickets, 7 CHF each, which took us to the other side of the river, onto another boat for a 15 min ride over to the falls - got a bit wet from the spray – then back onto the first boat to where we started. Falls wide, not high. Walked along the path next to the river away from the falls, across the bridge, and back towards the falls. A house at the edge of the falls has a big water wheel next to it. Walked up to Neuhausen Rheinfall station and trained back to Schauffhausen, then changed trains to Zurich. Was a different route back so got different views than on the way to the falls. Had a wander around the food market and music set up in the station, held on Wednesdays - heaps of massive cheese wheels, and an amazing array of breads, olives, and meats etc. On the way back to the hotel walked over a bridge that has locks all over the railings. Pretty tired so decided not to worry about dinner. Room was lovely, and upgraded us to a small suite (always ask, you might get lucky!) - views out the window to two church spires, super clean – great breakfast, and lovely staff.
Day 2 - 16/5/19 – Zurich
Cool day, a bit cloudy and hazy. Took the train to Uetliberg at 871m, climbing to the top of a ridge southwest of Zurich. Did the Planetenweg walk to Felsenegg, following a wooded ridge with views of Lake Zurich en route. Had a picnic sitting at one of the lake viewpoints. Some lovely farmland on the way, heard our first Swiss cowbells – some really big cows! Wildflowers everywhere on the sides of the roads, as well as in the fields. Watched 4 or 5 hang gliders up on the ridge. Everywhere was super green and lush, and many gorgeous gardens. At Felsenegg caught the cable car down to Adliswil, lovely lake views on the way down, walked to the station and caught the train back to Zurich. Called in at the station Tourist Office for info on the boat across the lake to Rapperswil Jona, but it’s 2.5 hours each way, so just decided to go for a 1.5 hour round trip ride on the lake. Caught the tram to Burkliplatz on the waterfront. Some beautiful houses on the lake edge, and a big fountain in the lake. Caught the tram up Bahnhofstrasse which has all the high-end shops like Chanel, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Armani etc. Still a bit jet-lagged so didn’t bother going back out for dinner again.
Day 3 - 17/5/19 – Zurich to St.Gallen
Took the train to Schauffhausen and changed to the train to Stein am Rhein. Walked over to the Altstadt (Old Town). Wow, an amazing place – really old buildings, many covered in beautiful frescoes. Lovely man at the boat terminal let us leave our bags in his office ‘til the ferry goes, so we had a picnic under the trees on the river, then wandered around the Altstadt. Saw one house that was built in 1393, another in 1405. Beautiful flowers at the entrance to the Altstadt gates, saw a Christmas holly tree, around the town are open concrete pools with pipes delivering drinking water, and even the drain manhole lids were stamped with medieval castings of St.George slaying a dragon. Quite sunny and warm at times. Back on the boat and got off at Mannenbach (our version of a Rhine river cruise today!), and got the train to St.Gallen via Kreuzlingen and Romanshorn along the lake Bodensee. Got a glimpse of some snowy mountains to the south east after Kreuzlingen at Romanshorn, and more mountains surrounding Bodensee on the German side. Stayed at the Hotel Vadian in the Altstadt just around the corner from the cathedral, all cobblestone streets. Lovely friendly lady at reception, got an upgrade to a larger room – looked out on the cute street, room really clean. Had a wander around town and dinner at the Italian restaurant la bocca, lovely meals. They wouldn’t give us tap water, so had to have a small glass bottle of mineral water for 6.20 CHF! Quite cold getting around tonight.
Day 4 - 18/5/19 – St.Gallen
Went to the cathedral, it was so amazing, so ornate and intricate, a UNESCO World Heritage site, part of the St.Gall Abbey precinct, built around the 1760’s. Went into the Abbey library, Stiftsbibliothek, one of the world’s oldest. Had to wear felt slippers over our shoes to protect the floor. Had a globe of the world with no Australia or New Zealand on it as we hadn’t been ‘discovered’ by Europeans when it was made. Really ornate wood shelving and railings, and frescoes on the ceiling, built around the same time as the cathedral. Holds ~170,000 works, including 2100 manuscripts, with 400 of these dating from before 1000AD – many from the 8th century. Then went to the Abbey archives, showing info on how the documents were kept and archived. Cost for the 3 areas was 18 CHF each, but was included in our STP. Back to hotel for a room picnic. Took the funicular to the top of the hill above town and walked along the ridge path and back. Could see over to Gossau one way, and over to Bodensee lake the other way. Quite warm today. Yellow dandelions everywhere on the hillside next to the path. Took the funicular back down to town. Room picnic again for dinner.
Day 5 - 19/5/19 – St.Gallen to Appenzell
It had rained during the night. Train to Appenzell only took about 40 minutes. Could see snowy mountains en route. Train went right alongside of the road in parts. Stayed at the family run Adler Hotel, next to the bridge over the River Sitter. It has an Italian café/restaurant attached, Little Italy, with more reasonable prices than we saw in Zurich and St.Gallen. Room very clean, with a little balcony. Rained lightly for a little while. Went to the Tourist Office – Santis was closed due to recent snow and an avalanche that had damaged a cable car pylon, Ebenalp was open. Walked around town, another cute Old Town with cobblestone streets and cute buildings. Had a picnic near the cemetery in the middle of town. Started raining. Had a look inside the church – another beautiful, ornate interior. Took the train to Jakobsbad. Did the Barfussweg walk back to Gonten, ~5kms. Cloud coming in and out, but not raining, though the trail was wet and a bit muddy, and it was cold, but not freezing. Views over farmland to snowy rock massifs. The walk was graded easy, it was level, wandering through fields and over streams. Train back to Appenzell. Had dinner downstairs in the restaurant – lovely pasta meals.
Day 6 - 20/5/19 - Appenzell
Raining steadily, as it had been during the night also. Decided to go to Ebenalp and hope the weather improves. Took the train to Wasserauen, and cable car to Ebenalp at 1644m. 50% discount on the cable car with our STP, 15.50 CHF each. 3.9 degrees and drizzling rain at the top. Blowing a gale out in the open, but protected by rock walls on parts of the trail. Lots of icy snow on the ground in some areas. Walked down to Aescher Restaurant, quite steep in parts. The trail goes through the Wildkirchli cave. There was rope and metal handrails on parts of the trail. At the end of the cave there was a hermit’s cabin, and an altar, pews, and Jesus on a crucifix under a rock overhang on the edge of the cliff. Aescher is amazing, built into the side of a rock cliff. Could see down to the lake, Seealpsee, but it was still wet so decided not to walk down. Amazing views everywhere. The restaurant was very cosy, we sat inside and had a hot chocolate. Took the cable car back down to Wasserauen. Took the train to Urnasch – was thinking of walking Urnasch to Jakobsbad, but it was raining steadily by now, and was freezing, so didn’t! Had our picnic under cover at the church in town, and took the train back to Appenzell. Wandered around town, and went to Alpen Kebab on the other side of the railway station for dinner – really big, nice crispy kebabs.
Day 7 - 21/5/19 - Appenzell to Chur
Had a bit of time before the train left, so left our luggage in the SBB office and went for a walk back over the river. Raining steadily. Train trip was great, even though the weather was still cloudy, with a bit of rain. Really steep down, the train had to lock onto a rack down the middle of the track as a braking system. Stayed at the Ambiente Hotel Freieck in the Old Town - great room on the top floor looking out to the cathedral spire and clocktower. They also gave us a kettle for our room. Took the train to Arosa, ~1 hour through an amazing near vertical gorge with waterfalls, the river below, beautiful forests – trees with bright green and dark green foliage mixed together – and passing little farming villages. Heaps of little wooden huts on the hillsides for keeping animals in. Then we were up in the snow, scenery was spectacular, passed a beautiful lake. Arosa village has a lake in the middle of town which was still mostly frozen. Walked around for a while, then took the train back down to Chur. Had a nice Thai dinner just outside the Old Town gates, sitting at a little table outside watching the world go by. Trains run through the middle of the streets, with the cars. Walked around the Old Town cobblestone streets, gorgeous, and really quiet.
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