Holy cow how can I even sum up the joy of a weekend spent in Switzerland with two great friends? This country was more beautiful than anywhere I have ever been (I really mean it this time) and could not have been a better place to celebrate my twenty first birthday! As college friends last semester, Lexi and I discussed meeting up in Switzerland from the moment we decided we were both going to study abroad. Highly anticipated and with quite the act to follow from my time in Santorini last weekend, this place did not disappoint even my highest expectations.
The Journey: My travels to Switzerland began on Wednesday November 16th as I boarded a Flexibus at 9 am at Florenc station (via uber, I did not feel like walking 15 minutes with all my luggage). I had struggled hard when it came to packing for this trip because I never want to go cold in a country, when it is perfectly possible to bring warmer clothes. For this reason, and the addition of food in my suitcase, my bags were stuffed and inconvenient to travel with. Nevertheless, once I got on the bus and settled in, I was extremely content and enjoyed the drive. I had a bus transfer in Munich and sat around there for a few hours before grabbing a snack at a grocery store and getting on my next bus to Zurich. In total this trip took 12 hours exactly, quite a journey, however it was bearable since I had a good seat to myself and wifi. Arriving in Zurich was a bit intimidating as my first trip alone, and the simple fact that being dumped in an unfamiliar place without cell service is a challenge. Luckily I was able to connect to the bus wifi enough to order an uber and make my way to the hostel. City Backpacker Biber hostel was above a restaurant right in the city center, up a few flights of stairs but quaint and cozy. After checking in, I made my bed and settled into my bunk for a bit. Besides having to pay $3 for sheets, this hostel experience was extremely nice, and the ‘all girls’ room made a huge difference in how comfortable I felt. Since I was traveling alone, it was super easy to make friends with the other girls in my hostel who were also traveling solo and very friendly, something that I haven’t experienced in my other hostels. The amazing thing about the people you meet in hostels is that many of them have been backpacking for at least a month, and I am constantly in awe of their endurance, especially because weekend trips wear me out. I am so glad that I choose to study abroad because had I not, backpacking Europe would always be a temptation. Instead, by staying a whole semester, I can go amazing places on the weekend and always go back to my home base in Prague where I am comfortable and familiar.
The Experience: I got up pretty early on Thursday morning, and went for a quick jog in the rain to explore Zurich a bit. Between my trip to Greece and the very cold weather in Prague, I have not had the chance to workout for a while, and that is one of the things I am looking forward to changing when I return to California. It was raining but I got a good feeling of why Switzerland is supposed to have the highest standard of living. Unfortunately my tennis shoes are pretty worn out and have a few holes in them, so when I started to feel cold dampness in my socks, my motivation to run died and I quickly went back to the hostel and packed up. Luckily, they allowed me to store my luggage at the hostel for the day, so I shoved all my valuables in my purse and headed to a coffee shop where I was meeting Emilee and Lexi, who were flying in from London. [I had been warned many times about the exorbitant prices in Switzerland and that was confirmed very quickly by my $6 coffee. In preparation for these high prices, I had packed a lot of food that I ate throughout the trip, one reason that I was happy to take the bus, because it was easier to transport.] When my two girl friends from CBU arrived I was elated and we just sat and caught up for a bit, before we began to plan the details of our weekend together. Unfortunately they also had a bit of luggage, so we pondered where they were going to put it for the day while we hung out in Zurich before heading to Interlaken at 10 that night. In the end, Lexi and Emilee stopped in a hotel and asked if they could leave their luggage, a request that was surprisingly granted. Without the struggle of bulky luggage, we were able to get a good lunch, walk past the river, and go in and out of the little shops at leisure. Overall it was a sweet day, including a few hours spent at a tea room chatting away, some fantastic swiss chocolate, and topped off with Thai food. After this, we gathered all our luggage and uubered to a hotel where were met up with our driver to Interlaken. Rather than taking a train, we decided on an (extremely cheap) option called bla bla car- a european company similar to uber in a carpooling sense. Although I have never used this organization, I have heard of it, and read many reviews about our driver, before agreeing on $10 each for the hour and 45 min drive. (in comparison, the train was going to cost about $60, so this was so so worth it). It turned out to be a great choice, and a pleasant drive, because our Swiss driver was friendly and we arrived safely right to the door of our new hostel, the Happy Inn Lodge. This hostel was also one of the nicer that I’ve stayed in, and it was interesting to compare my contentment with Emilee and Lexi’s reactions- since it was their first hostel all semester. The funniest part of this night, was the weird coincidence that the next day was also the drivers birthday, along with my 21! It was so funny to be sung happy birthday by my two friends and two swiss guys, while driving over the swiss alps after listening to the Swiss national anthem right when it turned midnight.
Friday was my 21st birthday, and there could not have been a better place to wake up to than a little town surrounded by huge mountains. We started our morning by getting coffee at a fancy hotel, and then walking around Interlaken looking at the shops. We were supposed to paraglide on this day, but had chosen to cancel the day before after seeing the weather forecast as 90% rain. Of course, on Friday the weather was actually perfect, partly cloudy and not half as cold as I expected. Despite the nice weather, I was not too disappointed about not paragliding. I know that it made my mom happy, and saved me a chunk of money that I can put towards other things. Instead we made our way to one of the lakes by bus, and I saw the most beautiful crystal blue water of my life. Standing in such an incredible place truly made me grateful for the opportunity I had to visit the most spectacular lakes in the world, and was a moment that I felt absolutely invigorated and alive. We later grabbed food at the grocery store to make small lunches, and then relaxed a bit before going out to a nice meal at an Italian restaurant near our hostel. It was such a sweet night with my friends for my birthday, and I truly felt loved and spoiled by them as they bought my dinner and surprised me with the best tiramisu of my life. After a weak showing of nightlife in Interlaken (expected) we went to sleep early, to prepare ourselves for two more days in this beautiful place.
On Saturday we woke up and planned a trip into the Swiss Alps to the town of Grindewald. Walking around in the morning, it was pouring rain, so we relaxed in our hostel a bit to avoid the snow up the mountain. Eventually we headed to the train station, and enjoyed the beautiful trip past all the Swiss villages, and freshly powdered countryside. Something about trains is magical, and I felt as if we were on the polar express or living in a Christmas dream. After only 30 minutes we arrived in the beautiful village and walked around a bit before happening upon a cozy tavern restaurant for lunch. I got a vegetarian burger that was likely my favorite meal of my whole trip. Grindewald was an absolutely magical town at the base of the swiss alps, something that reminded me greatly of Wyoming or the Grand Tetons. I could have stayed there forever, but it was freezing cold, so we headed back to the train station to make our way down to Interlaken. When we got back, Emilee and I made a quick detour for round two of the best tiramisu of my life before going to sleep (unnecessary, but soooo worth it ).
Sunday consisted of us waking up and realizing that it may be harder to get back to Zurich than anticipated. The train website that we had used to get up to Grindewald showed no trains to Zurich for that day, so panicked, I was elated to find another bla bla car driver heading to the city around 4 pm. Although it was much later than we were hoping, it was relieving to find a cheap way back- that was until we started messaging the German speaking driver and google translated the conversation to read that she would not bring us to the city of Zurich, but rather leave us on the side of the highway (?!). I still dont know if this is what she meant exactly, or if our translation was a bit off, but either way we were not too stoked on the idea, and set off to inquire about tickets at another train station. Luckily we were greeted with multiple trains leaving within the next hour, and sucked up our unhappiness about the price tag in exchange for the assurance of arriving safely back in Zurich. Bla Bla Car may have been a fantastic option for us going one way, but when there is a huge language barrier and flights to catch, it is not worth the risk. The train ride, on the otherhand, was a fantastic experience. We couldn’t find the second class cars, so we sat in first class before making our way to the fancy dining car for coffee and snacks. It was a sweet ride, and we highly enjoyed the Switzerland views before arriving in Bern to transfer. When we got back to Zurich we stopped for a sweet lunch where I got my first good Acai Bowl in Europe (!!). Then we went back to my hostel, where I checked in and we hang out a bit before Emilee and Lexi left for their flight. It was sad to have them leave, but it wont be long because on Thursday I am turning around and going to London to visit them for Lexi’s birthday! I was tired after they left, but walked around the city for a while to get one last memory of beautiful Zurich. The night of sleep consisted of me waking up every hour in anticipation of 6:30, for fear that I would miss my 7:45 bus back and be stranded. Luckily I made it, despite not being able to find an Uber, being rejected by a taxi, and practically running to get there on time (phew).
Overall this trip was a filled with beautiful scenery, good company, and lots of memories made with my future CBU roomies. I can’t express how blessed I feel for friendships that are so effortless, and make me even more excited to go back to school and California. Switzerland was an absolutely beautiful destination and I hope that one day I will again have the chance to visit.
Tidbits of Switzerland: If you ever get to visit, here are a few things that I think may better anyone’s experience for visiting this beautiful country. The swiss chocolate is fantastic, and you have to visit one of the many authentic chocolate stores. Fondue is also a big thing here- we ran out of time to order it, but If I return it would be a priority meal, because it is supposed to be awesome. Definitely go to Grindewald (or a swiss alp village similar); it is magical and beautiful and you will not be sorry.
While nothing impacted our great experience negatively, a few things threw us off about Switzerland. This list includes: a few experiences with not so friendly people (especially waiters and waitresses who act like it is pulling teeth to take your order), a few stores or cafe’s that either don’t take any card besides European or have a minimum of $10 purchase (or $30!); I guess the swiss mostly pay with cash, and of course the exceptionally ridiculous prices that will make you want to skip a few meals and most definitely appreciate returning to about anywhere else when it comes to value for your money. Besides that, Switzerland is a fantastic place to see and has left me with a fond memory and craving more mountain adventures.