Despite the many languages present in Switzerland, I don’t speak any of them. And despite my lack of worldly linguistic knowledge, I still freakin’ love Switzerland! If every weekend adventure is getting progressively better and better, how is the next going to top Switzerland? Of course each country, city, and town I’ve visited and have yet to visit has its own remarkable tourist highlights and charmingly subtle secrets, but I was enthralled with nearly every facet of Switzerland. And we weren’t experiencing Swiss culture at its finest, by any means–we were couchsurfing at a virtual stranger’s home in Lausanne, frantically driving a little VW around searching for minuscule street signs, and forgoing delectable restaurants for market baguettes, cheese, and chocolate. Which were equally delectable, in my opinion. Switzerland may be one of the most expensive destinations in the world, but I had one of the best weekends of my life for relatively little money. And the decisions we made weren’t necessarily to save cash, but just to explore–and priceless experiences they were.
The following aspects of our trip were initially a result of the college-kid-budget, but ultimately made the journey the best possible. While I suppose 4-star Switzerland would be fabulous, our spontaneous-thrifty-nomadic take on Switzerland afforded a far superior experience than those bourgeois losers going backwards in their cars. We push…
One of my favorite things about Europe is the vast variety of cuisine available across every border. So I make sure to really integrate myself into the culture and eat just about everything a country has to offer. So sophisticated, I know.
From a roadside B&B’s croissant and espresso to sampling (ok, devouring) Gruyère cheese in Gruyère, our “budget” food was amazing (and still amazingly expensive). I had heard that food was pricey in Switzerland, but when I saw that a Big Mac was $12, I realized even Ronald was robbing us for a meal. No matter, because a.) I hate McDonald’s so I don’t care if it costs 50¢ or $500, b.) we were waking up at 5 am and spending our days hiking many miles away from food, much less restaurants, so those weren’t an option, and c.) cheese and chocolate are two of my favorite things, both of which are plentiful, premium, and relatively low-priced. Score! Throw that in the backpack and done. Happy tummy.
And I may or may not have brought $40 of cheese back to Barcelona…
2. Das VW
After refreshingly good service on Swiss Air, (¡Que raro!), we picked up our sexy little VW Polo. With manual transmission. Thanks to Maddy’s fabulous driving skills, we were able to pull out of the parking garage…after pushing the car out of it’s spot, because she couldn’t quite manage to gear into reverse. Some tricky little nuance of the stick shift required a push down to switch into reverse, but thanks to a user guide in German, we just thought Maddy was a little rusty after a year of not driving and evntually would catch on to that unimportant reverse thing. But then, we thought the car had malfunctioned and couldn’t reverse. Logical solution? Throw it in neutral and push, obviously! After 24 hours of this, as well as driving down pedestrian streets at 2 am to find someone, anyone, to ask for directions, we figured that it would be good to ask someone about our lack of backwards motion. That someone happened to be a parking attendant in Täsch, who literally reached in the window and shifted for Maddy, and just said, “Ahh,” like it was a common problem.
Other than that inconvenient blooper, (which had its entertainment value, no doubt), it was smooth sailing over Swiss Alps from then on. Althought the Swiss Rail system is supposed to be great and scenic, blah blah blah, having a car was an invaluable advantage. Not only was the rental price equivalent to one Rail Pass and split between 4 people, but we could stop whenever we wanted (more chocolate, please), get lost as much as possible in the unnavigable city of Lausanne, and just look really, really cool while we cruised the Swiss countryside bumping French rap and losing hubcaps. La bella vita!
Everyone knows what couch-surfing means, but couchsurfing.org is an actual network of millions of people all over the world, generously opening their doors and sharing their couches with fellow travelers. There’s a system of verification, vouching for hosts/guests, and the ability to customize your profile so you seem really awesome to other couch-surfers. Maddy and I stayed with a guy in Lausanne that had moved from the States to Switzerland 2 years ago to practice architecture in Europe. Although we were too busy hiking all day to chat much, we at least learned that he loves the Swiss life. It’s hard not to, especially when your flat is overlooking Lake Geneva and the Swiss Alps. Pretty posh for couch-surfing!
I’m sure our fellow study-abroad friends had an absolutely fantastic time bungee jumping (ok, I’m definitely jealous of the boys’ 722 ft jump off the Verzasca Dam like in GoldenEye), canyoning, skydiving, and whatever, but $$ aside I wouldn’t have traded our three days of hiking for anything. The hiking extravaganza went:
- Day 1: Zermatt to Höhbalmen (Started at 5250 ft, up to 9462 ft. Bit of a 7 hour workout.)
- Day 2: Gimmelwald to Mürren to Trummelbach Falls (Started snowing. Premature winter wonderland.)
- Day 3: Gruyère to summit of Moléson (We didn’t intend to go to the top, but 14 km just flew on by! Time flies when you’re trekking through cow poop.)
The weather in Zermatt couldn’t have been any more perfect. Then we had unexpected, but enjoyable, snow up in Gimmelwald on the still-blooming gardens. And down lower in Gruyère the bright fall colors and morning fog were a beautiful contrast. 3 days of very different, but all incredible, adventures, not just tourist gimmicks. My writing abilities won’t do justice for the spectacular scenery, but my Nikon will:
Then onto Gimmelwald…
Mountain passage, small view of the massive Trummelbach Falls, and the real Marcel the Shell
Onward ho through the fog to Gruyère and Moléson…