What’s the first image that springs to mind when you think of Switzerland? If it’s cheese, chocolate, banking, or mountains, then you have the same impression of the country as most people. To the reality of these stereotypes, I am adding some more.
Stereotype number 1: You know how they say that Switzerland is super expensive? Add to this a little bit more. Let me show you what the very first 30 seconds of mine entering Switzerland looked like.
To enter Switzerland by car, you need a vignette. The rackets already begin. One year for 40 swiss franks (CHF). I am definitely coming again to use my end-of-year voucher.
A bit of history to be able to understand the context and certain stereotypes.
Celtic La Tène culture flourished during the Iron Age. Until the Roman conquest. One of the most important tribal groups in the Swiss region was the Helvetii. Steadily harassed by the Germanic tribes, in 58 BC, the Helvetii decided to abandon the Swiss plateau and migrate to western Gallia, but Julius Caesar‘s armies pursued and defeated them, conquered the Alps, integrating them into the Roman Empire. From there, it didn’t take long (three centuries) for the Germanic tribes to attack back.
In the Early Middle Ages, western part of Switzerland was part of the territory of the Kings of the Burgundians, the other part belonged to the kingdoms of Alemannia. The entire region became part of the expanding Frankish Empire in the 6th century, following Clovis I’s victory. The rest of the 6th, 7th and 8th centuries, the Swiss regions continued under Frankish hegemony (Merovingian and Carolingian dynasties) until they were reunified under the Holy Roman Empire around 1000 AD.
By 1200, the Swiss plateau comprised the dominions of the houses of Savoy, Zähringer, Habsburg, and Kyburg. With massive killing among themselves in between the mountain summits, deep in the valleys. To end this apocalypse, the Federal Charter of 1291 agreed. This is the embrio of the modern Switzerland and the Constitution day of the citizens of Switzerland. This is the founding document of the Swiss 26 cantons of the present day.
In 1648, under the Peace of Westphalia, European countries recognised Switzerland’s independence from the Holy Roman Empire and its neutrality. The new regime, known as the Helvetic Republic, was highly unpopular. An invading foreign army had imposed and destroyed centuries of tradition, making Switzerland nothing more than a French satellite state.
In 1798, the revolutionary French government invaded Switzerland and imposed a new unified constitution. Shortly after that: tadaaaa! Napoleon times. Which means: time to conquer. The Act of Mediation was the result, which largely restored Swiss autonomy and introduced a confederation of cantons. Henceforth, much of Swiss politics would concern balancing the cantons’ tradition of self-rule with the need for a central government. This is the source of the much popular swiss referendums.
During World War I, Switzerland was home to the revolutionary and founder of the Soviet Union Vladimir Illych Ulyanov Lenin. I guess the hide and seek works best when in Switzerland. This brings another stereotype of Swiss neutrality. Today, Switzerland is home to Red Cross, United Nations, EFTA, Olympic Committee etc.
During World War II, detailed invasion plans were drawn up by Hitler ,but Switzerland was never attacked. Switzerland was able to remain independent through a combination of military deterrence, concessions to Nazi Germany, and good fortune as larger events during the war delayed an invasion. Switzerland destroyed most of its tunnels and bridges, making it impossible to conquer. In the same, Switzerland nurtured its banking system, making it a safe haven during the world war times. Stereotype number 4.
First stop, the capital city of Bern. It belongs to Alemannic Swiss part of Switzerland. There are intriguing historical sites, brilliant parks and greenery, thought-provoking museums, and numerous festivals throughout the year. The Aare River flows through the city. It was a warm and sunny day and the walk through was just feeling great.
The first stop was the Nydeggbrücke (bridge) that connects the old city with the new area.
While it isn’t exactly clear how Bern got its name, there’s a local legend that the founder named the city after the first animal that he found on the hunt, which was a bear. There are references to bears all over Bern, and it’s the official animal on the seal and coat of arms dating back to the 1200s.
Equally enchanting are the 11 decorative fountains (1545) depicting historical and folkloric characters. Most are along Marktgasse as it becomes Kramgasse and Gerechtigkeitsgasse, but the most famous – the Kindlifresserbrunnen, a giant snacking on children – lies in Kornhausplatz. The name, appearance and actions of this fountain figure are certainly terrifying. It appears the ogre ate lot of children and not many had a chance to escape. It’s a vivid illustration of the importance of the education, obedience and the fear of God.
Bern’s most famous Old Town sight, this ornate clock tower the Zytglogge, once formed part of the city’s western gate (12th century). Crowds congregate to watch its revolving figures twirl at four minutes before the hour, after which the chimes begin. Over the years, the Zytglogge has served Bern as a clock tower, guard tower, prison, and civic memorial. There is a functioning astronomical clock from the 15th century in the tower that is one of the major tourist attractions of Bern. The clock tower supposedly helped Albert Einstein hone his special theory of relativity, developed while working as a patent clerk in Bern.
The Old Town of Bern is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its “exceptionally coherent planning concept.” There are six kilometres of arcades that the locals refer to as “Lauben” dating back to the 15th century. You’ll find all sorts of cafes, boutiques, restaurants, and bars hiding beneath the arcades, shops bellow these arcades as in the basements, making it the perfect place to spend a rainy day, always with a roof overhead.
Talking about shopping, there are many typical swiss products to buy: swiss cheese, swiss knifes, clocks, souvenirs… Most of the time they will be presented by the murmel, packing your chocolate to go. 😛
As mentioned before, Bern is the city where Einstein lived and lectured at the university. His house is placed in the humble apartment that Einstein shared with his young family while working at the Bern patent office. It is also the place of the development of Einstein’s general equation E=mc² and the sometimes poignant trajectory of his family life.
Behind is the great park called Münsterplattform with great view on the river Aarne. As the sun was still following my steps, it was a perfect moment to stop and try Einsteinkaffee from the sunny pavilion cafe.
Bern’s 15th-century Gothic cathedral boasts Switzerland’s loftiest spire (100m); not to miss the main portal’s Last Judgement, which portrays Bern’s mayor going to heaven, while his Zürich counterpart is shown into hell. 😛 Great idea for my own thumbstone. I shall order a relief with certain people plunging down to hell too. 😛
The medieval air of this city with its many fountains, sandstone facades, narrow streets and historic towers is quite unique. I was enjoying particularly watching and discovering the little figures on the facades. Each of them made me scratch my head.
The townhall, or german Rathaus is the 14th century building built in the late Gothic style, renovated some hundred years ago, but still medieval.
Käfigturm is yet another but less famous tower of Bern. It is erased in 17th century, with a clock and bell of baroque ornaments. It stands opposite of the Zyltlogge, just down the shopping street.
To the very end of the Bern adventure: BärenPark. With any luck you’ll spot Finn and Björk. I haven’t as they were sleeping their winter sleep (hibernation). However, Ursina was recently shipped to Russia as a gift to Putin.
Road continued. Stereotype number 5: yes they do have many tunnels. Long, short, open, narrow, whatever. Tunnels, tunnels. My claustrophobic soul was raged.
And a bit more of photos of getting there. The landscape is just breathtaking and I couldn’t stop admiring.
In the very same canton of Bern, there is this beautiful valley of 72 waterfalls that inspired Tolkien to write about. Located at the foot of the Bernese Alps, it is notably overlooked by the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau and many other high peaks. Lauterbrunnen literally means loud springs, wells.
As the day was coming to an end, the sightseeing was postponed for the next day. Fondue was announced!
It was hard to avoid the next table conversation of two lost Americans who mistakenly booked their hotel in Liechtenstein. The ignorance coming from that table was inevitable. People started to be annoyed.
- Oh, this is not the place? – No, madam. This is Lauterbrunnen.
- Oh, is this how you pronounce it? – No, madam, this how I talk to my unicorn.
- Oh, so where did I book it? – In Liechtenstein. That’s another country.
- What? I don’t even know this country exists.
A minute of silence for our US citizens and their geography knowledge.
The next day, the exploration of the area started. I noticed the temperature inversion: warm in the morning, super cold as of early afternoon. I had my coffee with the most sweetest taste of the Alpine milk.
From Lauterbrunnen, there are many ways how to get high in the mountains to the villages. Most of these villages are car-free as it is impossible to get there any other way then with a cable car, gondola or a train. Or a helicopter.
So we hopped on one, and got to Wengen. The landscape around us was amazing. White snow, white mountains, cliffs and waterfalls, forest and chalets… it was a fairytale.
Primarily an alpine farming community, the village began to be visited by tourists in the early 19th century. Guesthouses and hotels began to be built. The first ski races were held in the early 1920s, and the rest is history. As a girl, I watched this place on TV, following the world ski cup and famous croatian ski laufers. Finally seeing this place was dream come true. Or more an added item to the list.
We walked above the village, admired the view from above. The snow was falling, it was becoming colder, but the fresh air was so good. Finally we found a forsthaus, or a chalet (which ever runs your linguist flow) and had a sandwich. It was total Heidi und Peter moment. It is a story of a swiss boy and girl, living high in the Alps and taking care of goats.
Time to come down to village. We had a plan to visit the most significant piece of infrastructure there: the Jungfrau railway which was built in 1912. The Jungfrau rack railway runs 9 km (5.6 mi) from Kleine Scheidegg to the highest railway station in Europe at Jungfraujoch. The final train stop is in the mountain itself and the view from there is long long distanced. The ticket costs a fortune, but yolo, right?
No. The conditions were bad and we were advised not to go up as we would be disappointed. So we decided to hit the bar and try some swiss beer.
So we went to another alpine ski village: Mürren. No road to get there. This time it was a cable car, the one that can lift 120 people up. I still amazed how logistics works in Switzerland. Everything is so smooth, silent, well connected.
After a cable car, to get there, we took the train from Grütschalp.
This was a principal filming location for the James Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, released in 1969.
Coming back down to Lauterbrunnen, super tired from all these activities, carbs were the best option to go that night. Somebody was constantly repeating me the sentences: Mountin don’t lie. You have to eat carbs here.
And I did. Never ever have I managed to eat entire pizza with the crust around. That evening was something special.
Now a different canton, a bit closer to the south: Valais. Famous for wine production and in general as the agricultural area. Who wouldn’t enjoy the ride. Driving up the mountain, driving down the mountain, to the valley, next to lakes that are reflecting and sparkling.
Having such an opportunity, we couldn’t resist not to stop in some village on the banks of the lake Thunersee. The name of the restaurant was Möve. The lady that was working there was quiet confused and odd. But I have put this to the stereotype number 6: bad social skills of Swiss people. Indeed, everywhere we go, the social interaction with Swiss people, especially in service activities, was always a bit odd and almost extinct.
Moving legs, moving the horses. Or the trains. Because the Swiss people are so crazy about trains. You want to get somewhere? There is a train. – You want to take your car? You will have to take the train. On my surprise, we ended up in a train that pulls cars through the Lötschberg Tunnel – a 14.612 km and later Furka – 15.662 km. Both of the rides are almost 20 min long, in the dark. I was holding my claustrophobic beast on a chain.
Switzerland is a country of wines. Little did I know. Most of the wine is coming from Valais, the valley which was on our way to Evolene.
And finally Evolène – one of the oldest villages in Switzerland, dating back to 10th century. The commune of Evolène is situated in the Val d’Hérens. Due to its mountain terrain Evolène is subjected to a number of natural dangers such as avalanches. The last one happened in 1999, killing some 12 people.
The village belongs to francophone part of the country.
This is the place where I ate the best raclette in my life. The owner was odd, as usual in the past couple of days, but she served us well and profusely. Just look at the cheese she has put on fire to be melted. 🙂 To that, there was a homemade ravioli with sauge, steak and polenta.
Travelling back. The landscape had me again.
Switzerland straddles the border between the beer-loving central European countries and the wine-loving western European and Mediterranean countries. Today beer is second to wine in terms of consumption among Swiss. The country has a long tradition of brewing, with significant domestic beer production and a growing craft brewing sector. Ales are the most popular style. At least from our observations. 😛
Nothing to do here. The city is literally one big residence place and getaway to the Alps. It is an aglomeration of small villages. Habsburgs used for their manipulative battles.
The city is placed strategically between two lakes: Thunersee and Brienzersee with the river Aare in between.
It was a good stop to try swiss chocolate. 🙂
On our way, the landscape again. 🙂 How not be happy here and have a good quality life. Happy with the natural environment, transport infrastructure and political stability.
Now, this one happened unplanned. But as always, all things that are not planned and are spontaneous are the best. So was Luzern – a city in the German-speaking portion of the country.
Owing to its location on the shores of Lake Lucerne (German: Vierwaldstättersee) and its outflow, the river Reuss, within sight of the mounts in the Swiss Alps, Luzern has long been a destination for tourists.
One of the city’s landmarks is the Chapel Bridge (German: Kapellbrücke), a wooden bridge first erected in the 14th century. It is a covered wooden footbridge spanning the river Reuss diagonally. The bridge is unique in containing a number of interior paintings dating back to the 17th century, although many of them were destroyed along with a larger part of the centuries-old bridge in a 1993 fire. Subsequently restored, the Kapellbrücke is the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe. Actually, there is one more: the Spreuer Bridge (Spreuerbrücke or Mühlenbrücke, Mill Bridge). The bridge has a small chapel in the middle.
Old Town Lucerne is mainly located just north of the Reuss, and still has several fine half-timber structures with painted fronts. Remnants of the old town walls exist on the hill above Lucerne, complete with eight tall watch towers.
Jesuit church is sizable 17th-century church with baroque architecture, murals on its ceiling & a large organ. It stands on the bank of the river attractively, making the water reflection.
Alongside the excellent shopping in the Old Town, there is Town Hall on Kornmarkt. This renaissance building really took my breath away.
One last item to add here is the Mühlenplatz. The Mühlenplatz power plant is a run-of-river power plant near the Spreuer Bridge on the Reuss in the center of the city. It actually stands on the place where water-powered Lucerne Reuss mills were located within the city fortifications and were first mentioned, from 12th century.
Lucerne is one of the Swiss cities that lie on a lake outlet. In the Middle Ages, they were already able to use hydroelectric power thanks to the relatively small water level differences.
My trip to Switzerland here finished. Basel was yet another European city. Not in the Alps, with the Rhine river in the middle, and gypsies and beggers in the street. It was such a shock and a wake up after living in a fairytale all these days.
However, city has much to offer. Like, if you are missing the red colour in your life, this city should be definitely on your list as it could fulfill your colour shortage. I mean, most of the facades are dominating red colour.
Beside that, it is especially rich with history and famous for its many museums.
The entrance to the Old town is this Middle bridge. Also, what’s with the flags, Switzerland?? Wherever we went past days, the flags were surrounding us like it’s a festivity.
The University of Basel, Switzerland’s oldest university (founded in 1460), and the city’s centuries-long commitment to humanism, have made Basel a safe haven at times of political unrest in other parts of Europe for such notable people as Erasmus of Rotterdam, the Holbein family, Friedrich Nietzsche, Carl Jung, and in the 20th century also Hermann Hesse and Karl Jaspers.
The red sandstone Münster, one of the foremost late-Romanesque/early Gothic buildings in the Upper Rhine, was badly damaged in the great earthquake of 1356, rebuilt in the 14th and 15th century, extensively reconstructed in the mid-19th century and further restored in the late 20th century. A memorial to Erasmus lies inside the Münster.
On the way out, we actually ended up in the circuit of the cathedral with some gardens of the abbots. It was totally mystique and almost impossible to find the way out.
To finish this joddling trip: Walliser Kanne!
I thought that all the previous restaurants were odd, but this one was terrifying. I thought the waitress will kick us out. We were tasked to collect the dishes after the meal finished, we were eye-kept every single second of the presence. With her strong high voice, she appeared related to Eva Braun, I swear. You can see her on the 4th photo, marching in from the kitchen, after she has hit her colleague with the menu.
And that was it.
I am coming back. I have mf vinette for the entire year.