Switzerland is the gnome

Trip Start Feb 18, 2004
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Trip End Dec 05, 2005


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Friday, June 25, 2004

"Switzerland is the gnome" - I saw that on a postcard in Liechenstein. I still don't know if it's an insult or meant to be a compliment. There are quite a few houses with garden gnomes in the yards. I sit and stare at them for hours some days. Anyway, I think this gnome is a sneaky lil' bugger that syphons money from your wallet...Switzerland is freakin' expensive! Like 2-3 times more expensive than the other places I've been in Europe. It's still possible to find some things at a reasonable price in supermarkets though.

My Swiss adventure started off in Zermatt, right next to the Matterhorn. The clouds like to hover around that mountain so it'd only peek out now and then. And for the life of me, I couldn't find the entrance to the bobsled ride (that's a reference to Disneyland for those of you who don't get it). My first day there I went on a short hike (that being like 2 hours) up to a village called Zmutt closer to the Matterhorn. It was pretty, but too many clouds for good views. I met some fellow Northwesterners at the hostel and we went out that night for drinks and dancing. One of the guys met a local who was having a birthday and we ended up going along with them. I think we all needed some extra time to sleep in that next morning. I went off and hiked up to some lakes for views of the surrounding mountains (when they'd show through the clouds). That was a long hike...about 5 hours. Zermatt is a cool little town I'd recommend (in nice weather).

Matterhorn

I took the "Glacier Express" scenic train from Zermatt to Chur. No, they didn't let me be the conductor. It definately had some good views.

onboard the Glacier Express

From Chur I continued on to Vaduz, Liechenstein. Liechenstein is a tiny country - I saw a sign that said the population in 1990 was like 28,000. There's really not much to do there...I went and saw the castle and took the bus out to a tiny village to go hiking. Oh, and of course I had to get my passport stamped at the tourist office.

Schloss Vaduz

Then it was on to Luzern. I went there last time I was in Europe many moons ago, though I obviously didn't see much back then. My first day there it was rainy all day long so wasn't very pleasant for wandering, but I still went out. And I went on a boat ride ('cuz I had already validated my Swiss Pass for that day so it was free). The clouds cleared up late in the morning on day two so I was all over town getting pics - going along the town wall, up to a hotel for views over the city and along the lake. It was supposed to be even nicer the next day so I planned on going up Mt Pilatus then, but of course some clouds came back (though it wasn't too bad). The views were reasonably good from up top. Next to the train station, there was a bar that had a really big screen tv outside with the EuroCup matches going each night so I spent most evenings there. It was cool 'cuz people from the countries playing would be in attendance and rooting on their team.

Luzern

I took the train to Interlaken from Luzern and had some pretty views along the way (lakes and waterfalls). All the hostels in town seem to be of the party atmosphere, which is fine, but that tends to mean the rooms are lacking. The town is known for their adventure sports - paragliding, canyoning, skydiving, etc... - all of which are very expensive. Skydiving cost about three times more here than what I paid in Australia. Around this point is when I started to run into people just out of school (or studying abroad) and traveling around Europe. Some are just doing the quick whirlwind tour and others for a bit longer. Many of them have their parents to finance them so they have no concerns about spending $150 to go canyoning. I opted for the cheaper action sport of walking. My first day I just wandered around town and the second day I went to Lauterbrunnen. It's a small town in a valley with the big mountains all around (unfortunately they were all covered with clouds). Lots of waterfalls too. Very pretty even with the rain. While there, I went to Trummelbach Falls - it's a series of falls inside a mountain. Really cool. After that, I went wandering around by one of the lakes back in Interlaken. Oh, there's a Hooters in town, but I didn't stop for any hot wings. I was watching more EuroCup games while in Interlaken too and ran into a couple people I've met from before - Chris from the Sicily sailboat and Allison from Ireland (this is actually the second time I've run into her).

Next stop was Grindelwald up in the Alps a bit. The sun came out for the first part of the day to give me some amazing views as I hiked and hiked and hiked way up to Bachalpsee Lake. I had to hike through a bit of snow to get up there. The views were definately worth it. By late afternoon the clouds were back and covering up all the pretty mountains so I'm glad I made it up early. In town I saw a sign with tourism statistics - 2002 had over twice as many tourists from Japan than all of the Americas combined. That's crazy! I hung out in a pub that evening with some locals watching EuroCup (the Swiss got beat by the French).

Bachalpsee Lake

With the cloudy/rainy weather forecasted for the next few days, I decided to skip Gimmelwald (not much point being in the Alps when you can't see the mountains) and move on to Geneva. I stopped in Montreux and Lausanne along the way. Both are beautiful cities on Lake Geneva (this area is called the Swiss Riviera). Definately worth a visit. I arrived in Geneva kinda late, so had dinner and went for a wander around town. I didn't notice it at first, but the sky was clear and there was a pretty sunset. It had been a long time since I actually saw a sunset (too many cloudy days as of late). Unfortunately, in the morning the rain was back. I went and saw the U.N. buildings, the botanical gardens and around the old town. The hostel advertised that they were showing the EuroCup games at the stadium so I went out there to watch the game. Turns out it was just a big screen tv setup in the parking lot with some food booths around it. Kinda lame.

On my way up to Zurich I stopped in Bern and Murten. Murten is a really, really cute little town right on a lake. I thought it very picturesque and quaint...quite a few attractive ladies too. :) As much as I liked the town, I know I'd be bored there after a day. Something in me likes to keep on the go and always have something to see and/or do so little towns tend not to have enough to occupy my time. I think I have a little gremlin drill sergeant in my head that yells, "MOVE, MOVE MOVE!!!" - "yes, drill sergeant." - "WHAT WAS THAT, MAGGOT!?!" - "YES, DRILL SERGEANT!" [Snap back to reality.]

Murten

Bern could be called the "city of fountains" - they have a street with a bunch of cute little fountains (including one of an ogre eating children). And a whole bunch of supermarkets. I couldn't figure out why there were so many. Then on to Zurich. I checked into the hostel and did a wander around town before watching the England vs Portugal game in an English pub. That was a good game. It was fun to be among the Brits cheering on their team. Today is my last full day in Switzerland. I went out to the Lindt & Sprungli chocolate factory this morning (and got caught in a rain/hail downpour...I hid under a tree). Their "exhibition" was really lame, but I got a bunch of free chocolate afterwards so maybe it wasn't so bad. There isn't too much to see in Zurich. The sun came back out so I wandered along the lake (walking is free). I have like 10CHf to last me the rest of the day and tomorrow morning (meals are generally around 15CHf), so don't think I'll be doing too much exciting. Probably just watch EuroCup again tonight.

The Swiss people seem to be friendly and nice people. They even stop for you in the crosswalk (often before you're even in the crosswalk!). That's a totally crazy concept after coming from Italy. And they tend to keep their cities clean (also opposite of Italy). I didn't notice it for several days, but I haven't seen hardly any beggars or homeless on the streets. I don't know if it's low unemployment or maybe the Swiss have a law against loitering and panhandling. It's an odd mix of languages here - mostly German, some French and a wee bit Italian. I'm glad most people speak English 'cuz I know next to nothing in German and for the life of me can't seem to pick up the language. The German language is composed of three words: wurstel, schnitzel and bier. Depending on the tone and pronunciation it means different things. Like when I was at Tiffany & Co a few days ago checking out diamond nose studs, I ask the lady, "Sprechen zie English?" Her response, "schnitzel wuuurrrstel?" Of course I'm confused by this, "what?" "wurstel bier." "beer?" "bier schnnnnitzellll!" "nein. nein beer. nein schnitzel. diamond." "schnitzzzzel wurstel bieeeer!?!" I left the store shaking my head. No diamond nose stud for me...

Next stop is Freiburg, Germany. Hopefully up there they speak better German. ;)

p.s. - if anyone wants to contribute to the "get Tom an i-Pod for his birthday" fund, please see my brother, Bill, or e-mail me
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