Monday, April 11, 2011

Switzerland (Oct. 24-30)

5/29 Update: I have deleted Zurich in favor of spending more time in the Bern Oberlander area.
6/12 Update: I found out that the Glacier Express only runs through Oct. 30, so I had to cut one day out of the Bern Oberlander stay
8/3 Update: Had to reroute my St. Moritz to Milan train

Day 39 heading out of Germany into Switzerland, I wanted to try to stop off in Liechtenstein but apparently no express trains stop there. My options:
  1. The closest nearby town is Buchs, Switzerland, and only one train out of Fussen gets there within a reasonable time, leaving at 5:51am and getting in at 10:59am with two transfers (Buchloe, Germany, and St Margrethen, Switzerland). Then I could take the 2:12pm direct to Zurich, arriving 3:30pm, or the 3:01pm-4:23pm (via Sargans).
  2. Or, I can take that same 5:51am train out of Fussen, transfer in Buchloe, and get into Zurich at 11:44am.
Not sure (yet) if it's worth nearly 5 hours. I'd lose pretty much all the daytime on my first day in Zurich if I did, and there doesn't seem to be much worth stopping for aside from postage stamps.

Frommer's suggests for a 1-week stay, I should spend 2 nights in Zurich, 2 in Lucerne, 1 in Bern, 1 in Lausanne, and 1 in Geneva. However, my trip lies east after Bern towards Venice, not west towards France, so Lausanne and Geneva are out this trip.


Suggested itineraries:
  • Day 1: Take a walking tour of the Bahnhofstrasse to Lake Zurich, where you can board a steamer for a 11⁄2-hour ride on the lake. Return to shore and visit either the Kunsthaus Museum or the Landesmuseum. In late afternoon take a walking tour of the Altstadt (Old Town), along the famous quays of Zurich and through Old Town, where you might have a raclette dinner in an old tavern.
  • Day 2: Visit Fraumünster or Grossmünster, the two most famous churches of Zurich. Enjoy lunch in a typical Zurich cafe. In the afternoon leave Zurich for Uetliberg for a panoramic view of the Alps and the city. Have a beer and listen to the oompah band at the Bierhalle Wolf in the evening.
Other things to consider are the Kunsthaus Zurich (Fine Arts Museum) and the Landesmuseum (Swiss National Museum), the Urania Observatory with its Jules Verne Bar, the Sprüngli and Teuscher chocolate shops, the Distillerie zur Schnapsboutique.

Looks like I can do Zurich in two relaxing days.


My train from Fussen, Germany gets into Lucerne at 12:49pm on Oct. 24th.

Suggested activities: climb the old fortifications in the Museggtürme (but they're only open until early October, not sure if I'll make it); a walking tour of the Old Town in Schwanenplatz; Sammlung Rosengart (the Rosengart Collection) and the Picasso Museum; the Verkehrshaus der Schweiz (Swiss Transport Museum) and the Longinus Planetarium; a hop-on/hop-off steamer boat going from one end of Lake Lucerne to the other; and at night, the Grand Casino.

There are a few nearby mountains, two of which require a boat ride and all of which have cablecars and cogwheel trains to get up and down: Mount Pilatus has an incredible 48-degree gradient (steepest in the world), Rigi, and Mount Titlis, a glacier with a restaurant at the snow-covered top (the summit accessible via funicular and cable cars).

I can see two days here as well, nothing too taxing (unless it's the from the thin air atop the high mountains).

I can take a direct Lucerne to Bern train leaving 8:00am and getting in 9:00am on Oct. 26th.

Bern & the Bernese Oberland

In Bern: a walking tour of the Altstadt neighborhood, including the Bärengraben (Bear Pits), Old Town, the Rosengarten (Rose Gardens), the Cathedral of St. Vincent, and the Einstein Museum. Also: the Grand Casino.

Outside of Bern, day trips could include:
  • Interlaken
  • Jungfraujoch, at 3,400m (11,152 ft.), with the highest railway station in Europe and offers panoramic views over glaciers and the Alps, including the Ice Palace carved inside a glacier
  • From Mürren, a cable-car ride to the Schilthorn, famous for its 360-degree view. The panorama extends from the Jura to the Black Forest, including the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. The Schilthorn is also called “Piz Gloria” after the James Bond film "On Her Majesty’s Secret Service"
  • The “glacier village” of Grindelwald

I'm giving myself 1 day in Bern and 2 days to play around in the Oberland area, which includes a day off. I'd like one more day, but I have to be in Zermatt on Oct. 30 for the Glacier Express, that's the last day it runs for the season. For planning purposes, I'll leave Interlaken as my home base.

Bern to Interlaken trains run about every half hour and take almost an hour, so let's pick the 8:04am to 8:57am train on 10/27 (that's to Interlaken Ost, the one to Interlaken West is a half hour later).

Interlaken to Zermatt trains have 2 connections, in Spiez and then in Visp. A reasonable one leaves at 8:00am and gets in at 10:52am.

Glacier Express

The Glacier Express is a long train ride through some amazing scenery in the mountains: a 7-1/2 hour railway journey across 291 bridges, through 91 tunnels and across the Oberalp Pass on the highest point at 6,670 ft in altitude, going from Zermatt to St. Moritz. I'm not a skiing or hiking type and it doesn't look like there's a lot to do otherwise but it does look like a very nice place to spend the day looking at the Matterhorn.

I can either get to Zermatt in time for the 10:13am departure on Oct. 30, or I can spend the 29th in Zermatt and take the train the next morning (a day in Zermatt at the expense of one more day in the Bern Oberlander). For now, I'll go with spending the 29th in Zermatt.

The train arrives at St. Moritz at 5:42pm, and any trains/buses out of there would get me in close to midnight, so I may as well stay here for the night (or, more likely, a cheaper town a few miles away).

The nearest major city in Italy is Milan out the next morning. The RailEurope page used to show a St. Moritz to Milan 7:45am to 1:40pm, but doesn't any more. Using the German rail site DB Bahn I can do St. Moritz to Bellinzona from 7:02am to 10:20am via a local train and bus and then Bellinzona to Milan from 11:48am to 12:50pm.
  1. St. Moritz to Thusis via Regional Express Train 7:00-8:31am
  2. Thusis to Bellinzona via Bus 8:35-10:20am
  3. Bellinzona to Milan via Eurocity 11:25am-12:50pm
If the bus is on time, I can try to catch the 10:25-11:50am from Bellinzona to Milan. Here's a map showing the St. Moritz to Milan route.

Finally, spend the rest of the day and night in Milan, then Venice the next day. Wasn't planning to see Milan, but that breaks up a longer train ride.


    1. Skip Zurich. Seriously, I lived there, skip it. I mean its pretty enough as a city, but if you have a limited number of days to travel, it would not be on my list. IF you want to go to a major Swiss city, pick Geneva. And you'll be stopping in Bern, and that's well worth a stop, make sure to take the Einstein tour :). However, Switzerland isn't about the cities, its about the country side. Spend more time in the Bernese Oberland are - Interlaken and Grindelwald are awesome amazing places. Lucerne is a great place for souvenir shopping so make sure to leave some time for that.
      The Glacier express is a beautiful traine ride, and if you get all the way to Zermatt, well, its beautiful to look at. They actually have a near by high altitude train that you can take up to the top to get a better view.
      If you need more specific Swiss advice, let me know.
      If you want to get off the beaten track, try a farmstay or somethign in Appenzel, which is kind of like the heart of the Swiss culture.

    2. Reading more carefully, don't make the Interlaken/Grindelwald area a day trip from Bern. Spend a few days in Bern, then go to Interlaken (area... I like the smaller towns better) and spend a couple days there going up Jungfrau, walking up the Grindlwalk glacier, maybe doing one of the famous Interlaken adventure tours (zorbing, downhill mountain biking, canyoning, hang gliding).

    3. I didn't think that Bern had "a few days" worth of stuff, unless it's as a base to take day trips from. What's a better base camp, Bern or Interlaken?

      I was looking forward to the Jules Verne Bar in Zurich, though, but I don't mind giving up the city if there's more to see elsewhere.

      Is Interlaken where the zorbs are? I saw that years ago on Amazing Race and thought it looked like so much fun. And I could handle hang gliding, as long as someone else is working the controls.