This July, I left Tokyo to go to Switzerland for a week. Even after two trips, I was still crazy obsessed with Japan and my original intention had been to stay in Japan for a month. However, last minute, the opportunity to travel to Switzerland with my mother and stepfather popped up, so I took it, as I don’t get the chance to travel with my family very often.
I left from Haneda Airport on Wednesday 15th July, and had a night flight with Air France from Tokyo to Paris. There was a 3 hour stopover at CDG to go to Zurich. The flight was fairly comfortable and Air France is probably one of the best airlines I have flown with, but I didn’t have a good sleep due to there being many children on the flight.
Day one (Thursday 16th July): I arrived in Zurich around 9am and waited for my mother and stepfather there. Zurich airport is kind of small and quiet (the part I was in anyway) and I was shocked to see that they let dogs in the airport. I saw many people with their dogs in the airport, big and small.
After my parents arrived, we caught a taxi to Novotel in Zurich West and checked in. Zurich West is still considered part of the city I think, but not really the main part. From what I gather, it used to be an industrial area that has now become the trendy/hip area of Zurich. After checking in and dropping off our luggage, I took a walk around the area for awhile.
During my first walk around here, I was kind of disappointed as I thought the area would be more lively, like the hip areas of Sydney such as Surry Hills or Newtown, but it was probably because I didn’t know where to go. Near this bridge, there was a large river with clear water and lots of people bathing in it. It was a hot day, I think around almost 40 degrees, and I was tempted to go for a dip as well, except I hadn’t had the foresight to bring my bikini.
After taking a little stroll around, I went back to the hotel to change, having ventured out in a long sleeved dress and not realising how hot it would be. After resting up a little bit, my parents and I went out around 5 or 6pm after waiting for it to get a little cooler. However, it didn’t seem to be much cooler at all.
Around the area where we were staying in Zurich West, the tram lines were haphazardly arranged, running in almost every direction under the bridge. There were also bright orange block seats under the bridge, where people were sitting and chatting.
It was dinner time, and there were a row of restaurants across from the bridge that were giving out free food and wine to promote their food, so we took a bunch of things and sat on the seats under the bridge nibbling at them. There was nothing wrong with the food, but the restaurants promoting themselves were Thai and Italian, and as it was my first night in Switzerland, I really wanted to eat authentic Swiss food. We walked around Zurich West a little bit, looking at restaurant menus before deciding to eat at a restaurant called Studer’s, which was very close to our hotel. The restaurant menu was all in German or Swiss German, so a member of staff came to our table to explain the menu to us.
The menu seemed to be pretty basic, mostly consisting of sausages or meat with a side of salad or vegetables. My parents both ordered sausages with salads on the side, while I decided to have grilled chicken with a side of vegetables. The food took at least 20 minutes to be cooked, but when it came out, the three of us were very happy with our meals.
The food looked very simple, but it was simple food cooked well. This was hands down, one of the best meals I ate in Switzerland. Each dish cost around 20 CHF. After our satisfying dinner, we did a little bit of grocery shopping and then retired back to our hotel as the three of us were beat from overnight flights.
Day two (Friday 17th July): We woke up bright and early in the morning and got ready to head out into the main part of the city. Zurich’s tram system is fairly easy to use and we worked it out very quickly.
From our tram stop Techno Park in Zurich West, it took about 10 minutes or less into the main city area. My parents and I first went to the tram stop called Central, in order to exchange money and get some tourist brochures and maps of the city.
For catching the trams in Switzerland, you buy tickets before boarding at one of the machines located at the tram stop. The machines are fairly easy to use, and when you get on the tram, there’s nothing to scan your ticket and usually no conductor who checks tickets, although I’ve been told there are tram conductors once in a blue moon. We caught a tram from our stop Techno Park in Zurich West to Central, and exchanged money there at one of the money exchanges there and then caught a tram to the Bellevue Platz area and walked to Limmatquai from there.
One of the first things we did when we got off the tram was wander over to a market and browse the things on sale.
At the markets, we bought some bread and Swiss cheese for breakfast the following day. I selected some truffle brie, which looked too good to pass up, and we got 100 grams of it. I thought I heard the man say it was 100 CHF but I’m not quite sure.
After buying a few things at the markets, we walked around Bellevue Platz enjoying the sunshine and admiring the view before walking to Limmatquai nearby.
Seeing the traditional buildings in Limmatquai along the river was one of my favourite sights in Zurich. One of my favourite things about European countries is their keeping with tradition and refusal to build skyscrapers like Western/Asian nations. Despite that, a Swiss friend told me that Swiss people like to renovate buildings/homes often.
The three of us spent quite a long time walking around Limmatquai before lunch, as I was intent on finding a traditional Swiss restaurant to either eat raclette or fondue at.
It was over 30 degrees celsius that day, and we’d been looking for a Swiss restaurant for at least 30 minutes. I was single minded in my goal of eating Swiss food despite perspiring heavily, but took pity on my parents who were now hot, hungry, and probably tired from all the walking we had done. We did a full circle and then inevitably settled upon a cafe we had spied earlier, which I had proclaimed that I didn’t want to eat at.
We ordered after a quick look at the menu, which was thankfully in English. The food was actually quite good, with good bread on the side as well, but I had my heart set on eating Swiss food that day, and couldn’t get over this. Each of our dishes was about 20 CHF, and my parents both ate ice cream for dessert at this cafe as well, so our bill ended up being at least 60 CHF. Afterwards, we strolled over to Banhofstrasse, a 2km long shopping street and the main shopping area in Zurich.
After lunch, my parents decided to go back to the hotel and hide from the heat, while I explored a little bit more on my own. After about 30 minutes to an hour of being on my own, I also decided to go back to the hotel and rest a little before dinner.
We went out for dinner around 6pm, and caught two trams to get to Langstrasse, the nightlife area in Zurich and also where the restaurant we planned to eat was at. I had looked up a fondue restaurant called Fribourger Fonduestubli online, and much to my dismay, found that it was closed until the end of August when we got there. With that, we caught a tram back to Banhofstrasse and walked around a little there before settling down at a random restaurant that we chose. I wasn’t too happy with the choice, but the restaurant at least served traditional Swiss dishes, like rosti.
This was my first time eating rosti, which is thin slivers of fried potato. This one was overcooked, as you can tell by the colour, and it was also very salty. The beef was cooked in a mushroom sauce, and was a nice addition to complement the rosti. After dinner, I met a friend for drinks in Zurich while my parents went back to the hotel.
D took me to a lookout point from which Oldtown was visible. We took a few pictures
Despite having already eaten dinner, D and I went to a fondue restaurant called Swiss Cuchi, which is one of the most popular traditional Swiss restaurants in Zurich. D selected the Moitie-moitie fondue, which he said was one of the classic cheeses used for fondue, and didn’t have an overpowering flavour or smell.
The fondue was served with a small bowl of pears and bread cut into cubes. Swiss bread is probably the best I’ve eaten in my life. Fondue is a dish eaten in winter, so we were the only ones eating it. This didn’t change the fact that it was satisfying and delicious though, and we finished the whole thing, despite not being hungry.
After my second dinner, we walked to a bar nearby called Tina Bar, where D said they had nice cocktails and cigars.
After leaving Tina Bar, we went to one bar in Langstrasse before I decided to call it a night and got a cab back to the hotel.
Day three (Saturday 18th July): The next day, we woke up early and checked out of Novotel Zurich. We caught a train to Bern from Central station in Zurich, which took about an hour, and changed at Bern to go to Kandersteg. All in all, the trip took about 2 hours. In comparison to Berg and Central station, Kandersteg station was tiny and only a few people apart from us got off here. My parents were asking the station staff for information on how to get a taxi when they told us that someone from the hotel had come to pick us up.
We were staying at Hotel Alpina, a small hotel that was on the main street of Kandersteg, but it was a little far with all our luggage. The girl from the hotel that had come to pick us up said that there were no taxis here because it was such a small town, so they always picked up and dropped off their guests. After checking in, we freshened up and took a look around the town.
When mum showed me the itinerary, I was not pleased at all that we would be spending the majority of our Switzerland trip in Kandersteg. I had never even heard of the place. When traveling, I prefer spending time in big cities, eating, checking out the nightlife scene and exploring. I had no idea what I would do in a small country town. However, when we arrived in Kandersteg, I was thrilled with the place and took an instant liking to it. The town is so small that it is basically just comprised of one street, where all the hotels and restaurants are. There are a few souvenir shops just in front of the station and a few buses that run through the street. It has a quiet, unassuming air, with traditional style buildings that have flower boxes, and people say hello to you in German or Swiss-German as they pass you on the street. Every day, I woke up to the view of this mountain from our hotel window, and it was a lovely change to be away from the city and take in the fresh air.
We strolled around the town for a little bit in the afternoon, had coffee at a cafe and then bought a few things at the local grocery store. After this, we went back to the hotel for awhile before heading out for dinner around 5-6pm. For dinner, we went to a rosteria just a few blocks down from our hotel.
My stepdad and I both ordered the same dish, pictured above. Known as Beurn Rosti, it was described on the menu as being a local specialty. It included rosti with two pork sausages and a side of mustard-like sauce as a condiment. In comparison with Friday night’s rosti in Zurich, this one was not overcooked and tasted better in comparison, however, all the elements of this dish were salty. On a side note, it is common for many Swiss restaurants to serve sparkling water instead of still, without asking customers for their preference and this was also the case at the rosteria.
After dinner, we walked around the town again (there was really not much else to do) taking in the sights of the mountains until it began to rain.
Day four (Sunday 19th July): After an early night in, we woke up early in the morning and enjoyed a complimentary breakfast by Hotel Alpina. The breakfast service began at 8am and ran until 9:30am. What was on offer was several different kinds of bread, cured meats, cheeses, three different kinds of cereals, two kinds of yoghurts, croissants, jams, and fruit. Since it was buffet style, I stuffed my face and felt guilty afterwards.
Our plans for Sunday were to catch the cable car up to Oeschinen and then hike to Oeschinensee. Straight after breakfast, we left the hotel and walked to the cable car stop, which was about 10 minutes away from our hotel.
The cable car ride took about 10 minutes, and the size was like that of a ferris wheel carriage, with a seat on either side.
When we got out of the cable car at Oeschinen, the ground was fairly flat and there was a walking trail that was surrounded by mountains. It was an easy walk from Oeschinen to Oeschinensee and it took me about 15-20 minutes.
On the way there I encountered a few cows with bells attached to their collars, grazing in the fields.
After the 20 minute walk, I faced one of the most beautiful sights that I had ever seen.
Unfortunately I had the bad luck of having my DSLR camera battery die on me just before I reached the lake, so I had to make do with my iPhone.
The iPhone pictures really do not do this place justice at all. I felt that pictures couldn’t really capture the natural beauty of the lake. When I got here, it was still early, around 10:45am and after taking some pictures and walking around, I sat by the side of the lake near the water and continued reading The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (highly recommended for lovers of Victorian or Gothic novels).
Seeing the lake was probably one of my best experiences in Switzerland. Back in Australia, I’m not a very outdoorsy person and have been known to spend entire days indoors or in restaurants eating. However, I really liked being among nature and taking in the fresh air and scenery. I felt really serene and calm just sitting by the lake, away from the noises of the city. Just being here made it easy to forget about everything.
Later on, around lunchtime, more people began to arrive. There were a bunch of other international tourists, as well as Swiss tourists with their families and dogs. Despite the water being freezing, lots of people stripped down to their swim suits and began bathing in the water, which made me wish that I had brought mine. After I’d been reading for about an hour, and when it began to get more crowded, I decided to leave and go hiking down the mountain.
I was not prepared for what followed. The hike down the mountain was extremely steep and rocky, and I regretted deciding to hike down all the way. It wouldn’t have been so bad had I not been extremely terrified of heights. At many points during the hike down, I envisioned tripping on a rock and falling to my untimely death. Fortunately though, I made it back down to Kandersteg in an hour and a half, with aching legs and a red face from walking in the sun. I went back to the hotel for a little bit to rest and charge my camera before dinner.
My parents and I went out around 5 or 6pm for dinner, and chose a place called Au Vieux Chalet, just down the road from our hotel. My mum had her usual salad, while my stepdad had a plate of roast beef, while I opted for some kind of meat steak (pork, most likely) with a side of vegetables.
After dinner, we went back to the hotel and had an early night in.
Day five (Monday 20th July): We woke up to our last full day in Kandersteg and enjoyed breakfast at the hotel before catching a bus to Sunn Buel, another cable car stop.
When we got to the cable car stop, there were a bunch of other tourists there also waiting to catch the cable car up. We were told that there was a problem with the cable car, so my mum, stepdad and I walked around nearby for about 30 minutes taking pictures.
The cable car ride took about 10-15 minutes, and unlike the ride up to Oeschinen, it was in a large carriage that was able to fit a maximum of 40 people. My mum, stepdad and I were the last ones to be allowed in, and the experience was almost like riding a manindensha on the JR Yamanote line in Tokyo. The cable car shook a lot, and we went up a lot higher than in the cable car to Oeschinen the previous day. Since we knew that the cable car had had problems already that day, and it was a very shaky ride, you can probably guess that my mind was preoccupied with the thought “I DON’T WANT TO DIE YET” the whole way up.
Obviously, we made it there in one piece, but I was glad to get out of the cable car.
As usual, mum and stepdad only walked around a little bit near the cable car station while I decided to hike a little bit. There was a restaurant at the cable car stop where I told them I would meet them back for lunch. There was a sign post with a sign saying that Gemmi Pass, a popular sight seeing spot, was 2 hours away. After yesterday, no way was I prepared to do another long hike, so I walked for about 30 minutes and then came back. The walk wasn’t too steep, but wasn’t the easiest either, as there were lots of uphill and downhill points.
After coming back to the cable car stop, I met my parents at the restaurant there and we proceeded to have lunch despite it only being a short time since breakfast. The restaurant was situated on top of a cliff and we had an excellent view.
The food wasn’t good here, and we were also the only people eating here, but this could have been been explained by the early time. We sat down to eat lunch at about 11:45am, when people were just getting off at the cable car stop to go hiking.
My stepdad and I were both given an ample serving of chips with our meals, liberally peppered with chicken salt. Neither of our meals were very enjoyable, and this was likely the worst meal I ate in Switzerland. After eating, we caught the cable car back down and shared it with a Swiss woman and her three dogs. I haven’t really seen anywhere in Switzerland that dogs aren’t allowed.
After getting the cable car back down, I walked 40 minutes from the cable car station to Kandersteg and then proceeded to hike up to Oeschinen, thinking that since I had hiked down yesterday, hiking up would definitely be doable.
This was not one of my best decisions. It was a steep uphill walk, and I took the wrong turn and ended up hiking on a narrow, mountainous path that was covered with bramble and rocks. Occasionally, there were also insects that I came across while hiking, and I was forced to swat them away violently while also hoping that I didn’t trip on a stone or tree root and fall to my death. The path was so narrow that when people came past, you had to stop and move to the side.
Not long after I started the hike, I was drenched in sweat, panting and out of breath. I had to stop many times, while I saw much older people than me doing the downhill hike and felt terribly unfit. I was glad when I get off the narrow mountain path and back on the wide road, which was meant for cars.
I’d been hiking for about an hour already and thought I was nearly there when I turned a corner and saw how steep the next hill was that I’d have to climb, and gave up and came back down. Clearly mountain hiking is not my thing. When I got back down, it was about 3 or 4pm already, and I was so tired that I decided to go back to the hotel and rest before dinner.
Day six (Tuesday 21st July): The following day, we woke up and enjoyed our last breakfast at Hotel Alpina before checking out and getting dropped off at the station by hotel staff. We then caught a train to Bern and changed there to get a train to Geneva. In Geneva, our hotel the Suite Novotel, was really close to Geneva airport. In terms of hotels, I preferred our Geneva Novotel to the Zurich one as it was bigger and had a complimentary breakfast service. Another one of the benefits of Suite Novotel is that they give tourists a free travel pass, so my parents and I were able to use the trams and buses in Geneva for free while we were there. For people staying a longer time, I think the pass is able to be used for 2 weeks.
It was an extremely hot day, with temperatures in the mid 30’s, so after checking in, we stayed in our hotel for a little bit before going out for dinner. From the hotel, we caught a bus into the city area and walked around an area called Bel-Air, which was next to the water. The first night, we didn’t do much except walk around taking pictures near the water.
We found a waterfront cafe shortly after walking the length of Bel-Air and decided to have ice cream before dinner. They served Movenpick ice cream, which I wasn’t interested in eating because we have it in Sydney already, however it’s impossible to escape from Movenpick ice cream in Switzerland. It’s literally everywhere.
I picked a French restaurant nearby to have dinner at, as we again struggled to find a traditional Swiss restaurant. The food here was good, but served in giant portions which I struggled to finish. The veal was tender and served in a delicious mushroom sauce. The pastry was crisp and complemented it well. The vegetables and chips were rather bland. This dish was also one of the most expensive things I ate in Switzerland, priced at 40 CHF. After dinner, I walked around the area by myself for a little bit before going back to the hotel.
Day seven (Wednesday 22nd July): Determined to make the most of the last full day in Switzerland, we woke up early and had breakfast at the hotel. This breakfast was very similar to our breakfasts at Hotel Alpina, in that they were comprised of bread, cured meats and cheeses. After breakfast, we caught a bus into the city again and swapped at Cornavin in the city centre to go to Parc des eaux vie.
After hanging out in the park for a little while, I parted ways with my parents and went to explore the city on my own. I wanted to go to the Old Village of Geneva, but being me, I got lost around the city and walked around in circles in the hot sun before I found the right place.
One of the things that I love about Switzerland is that they have water fountains available all around the major cities that you can drink from.
After walking around lost, I made my way back to the city centre and decided to have a break in a Martel Chocolatier.
The pastry I got looked better than it tasted. After finishing my sweet treat, I left the city centre and caught a tram to another part of the city. While exploring, I found some markets and spent some time browsing there.
Compared to Zurich, I found Geneva to be more tourist friendly. One of the reasons for this was our free public transport pass from our hotel, and also that Geneva has a free wifi that is available to use in many parts of the city. After rummaging around at the markets for some time, I caught a tram back to the city centre and met a friend, N.
N and I walked around Bel-Air, and then caught a boat across Lake Geneva.
After catching a boat across the lake, we sat in a park for a little while before it began to rain. We went to a cafe to eat ice cream sundaes after this, and during this time, it began to violently storm so we had to move inside.
The ice cream sundae was not as delicious as it looked.
After finishing our ice cream sundaes, we caught another two boats back across the lake and caught a tram to eat dinner at a Swiss restaurant. We came to this restaurant specially to eat raclette, which is a traditional Swiss dish that I had my heart set on trying.
Raclette is traditionally served with potatoes and eaten in the winter, so again, we didn’t see anyone else in the restaurant eating it except for us.
When our dishes came out, I was surprised to see that the cheese was served melted. I had been hoping for grills to melt the cheese ourselves, but N stated that this was the better option as we wouldn’t burn the cheese.
All the cheeses varied in taste, but were all delicious nonetheless. That being said, I’m not picky with my cheeses and have never tried one I didn’t like. This was one of my favourite meals in Switzerland. After we finished dinner, it was raining and I caught a tram back to my hotel content with my last day.
The next day, I woke up early, packed my bags and got on a plane back to Tokyo. I was pleased to be going back to Japan, but also happy that I made the choice to come to Switzerland.