There was a lot of excitement built up for our Switzerland trip before it began. We were living in France (Lille) back then in 2016. When our Swiss Travel Passes (which we had pre-ordered earlier) arrived, they almost felt like an official invitation. The paradise on earth was beckoning us with promises of unmatched natural beauty; and boy were we ready!
We had no idea what was in store for us on the first day. With all our bubbling energy, we reached the Lille airport three hours before the departure time only to find that all flights were delayed by a couple of hours. Apparently, there was a strike by the Air Traffic Controllers in France. Damn the French! We settled down on a seat and waited and waited and waited. Finally after around 6 hours of waiting, we reached the gate only to get another bad news. Apparently, a couple of birds had flew into the engine of our plane while it landed in Lille, resulting in all sorts of technical inspections and more delay. Damn the birds! After a couple of hours of waiting around the gate thinking will we fly or won’t we fly that day, they finally put us out of our misery and announced that the flight was postponed for the next day. Damn the French and their birds! We reluctantly made our way back home with grumpy faces and an even grumpier mood.
The next morning we got up with renewed energy and made our way to the airport hoping for better luck. We saw many of our co-passengers at the airport and recognized them (after all we had been staring at those faces for several hours the day before). Its true what they say that, calamity brings people together the way happiness never can. We finally took off at around 11:30 AM to a loud cheer from all the passengers. Our trip had finally begun!
We landed in Geneva in the afternoon, to yet another cheer from all the passengers. Did you know that the airport in Geneva is shared between two countries – Switzerland and France. Yes, its right on the border and you can come out at the French Sector or the Swiss Sector. I wonder what that would make our flight – domestic or international?? Anyway, pointless pseudo philosophical musings aside, let’s get back to the travel log.
Geneva is the capital of the French speaking part of Switzerland. English is well spoken and understood by the locals. Switzerland has four official languages – German, French, Italian (which you probably wouldn’t have guessed) and Romansh (we had never heard of this before).
The first thing you’ll notice in Switzerland is all the adverts for Swiss watches. They say the Swiss people are borderline obsessive about things running on time. No wonder they like watches.
The Swiss Railways are a marvel in themselves. They have around 2000 trains running daily like clockwork. After getting our money changed to Swiss Francs, we boarded the train to Lucerne. The weather was bright and sunny and the landscapes passing by were simply gorgeous. The train ran parallel to the Lake Geneva and there were beautiful sights of the lake with the snow clad mountains in the backdrop. This first look at the Swiss countryside and landscapes gave us an indication of the things to come – and things kept getting better and better.
We reached Lucerne around 5pm. The weather was really nice and sunny. After checking in to the hotel we went out for some sightseeing. Lucerne was beautiful with the centrally located lake. We walked through the promenade towards the icon of Lucerne – the Chapel Bridge i.e. Kapelbrucke in German. The bridge towers over the lake. It is a beautiful wooden bridge with colorful flower plants hanging on both sides to enhance its beauty. Inside the bridge, we saw different paintings hanging on the roof displaying town’s history. After bridge, we went to see the old town. It was crowded market place with majority of Swiss watch shops. We went to see the city’s fortification wall. It gave a spectacular view of city residing beneath Mount Pilatus. Then we went to see the Lion monument. It commemorates the Swiss Guards who died in the service of King Louis XVI of France in 1792 during the French revolution.
Lastly, we went for a walk on the lake’s promenade. It was a serene moment to see the calm and blue water beneath the snow covered mountains. I wished that moment would never end. With that view imprinted in our mind, we decided to call it a day.
Next day we started with the journey in the Lucerne –Interlaken express, which was part of the panoramic route. The train had huge glass windows to allow passengers to see the beauty outside. It felt like a land in a fairy tale. Beautiful lush green landscapes and alpine houses sped by, with the misty mountains looming majestically in the background. Crystal blue lakes and small curvy roads; flowing streams and cattle grazing away at the lush green grass, the view was to die for!
After reaching Interlaken, we took the train to Grindelwald which lies at the foot of Jungfrau. From here we took the Bernese Oberland Bahnof cogwheel train. We could feel the landscape changing slowly as the train climbed higher. Lush green grass gave way to rugged cliffs and snow. We got down at Klein Scheidegg which is the intermediate station before the final leg of the journey to the top of the mountain. We took the Jungfraubahn cogwheel train to reach Jungfraujoch-Top of Europe. The train route cut and dug its way through the mountain and is a true engineering marvel. We passed through multiple tunnels dug in the mountain, some of them even had viewpoints where the train stopped for a few minutes. We finally reached the top and immediately noticed that breathing got a little harder due to the altitude. The majority of the indoor space at the top including the train station were all carved inside the mountain but had all the modern amenities. There were different stalls, restaurants, souvenir shops. We went to our first stop -“Sphinx” which is the top most part of the building complex that sticks out of the mountain at its peak. It has a observation platform offering panoramic views of all the surrounding snow capped peaks and the glacier. It was truly an unique sight! The Aletsch glacier is directly at the foot of this observation platform. At 22km in length, it is the longest glacier in the Alps and is an Alpine UNESCO World Heritage Site.
From Sphinx, we continued our journey towards Alpine Sensation. This is the place which connects the Sphinx hall to the Ice Palace. This tunnel had pictures showing the development of tourism in the Alps and the history of the construction of the Jungfrau Railway. We then moved to the Ice Palace. This was a tunnel made of ice and contained several wonderfully carved ice sculptures. We hadn't come all this way to stay indoors, so we hurriedly made our way towards the mountain plateau which was outdoors in the snow. It was the first time I had been in the snow and I was super excited. Milky white snow surrounded us. It was so surreal. After playing in the snow, we went back inside to visit the Lindt Chocolate museum which showcased the journey of chocolate from cocoa beans in South America to the delicious Swiss chocolates that the world loves. We then went for some more fun in the snow at the Ice Park. We hired a couple of ice sledges and sledged on the glacier to our hearts content. Breathing had gotten much harder by now due to our hour long sledging indulgence and we decided to get back to the shelter of the mountain cavern.
After having our sandwiches for lunch and drinking Masala Chai at the peak, we were ready to start our journey back. On our way back we got to spend some time in Interlaken. Its a town that lies between the lakes of Thun and Brienz and so is aptly called Interlaken (literally meaning Between Lakes). The town extends on both sides of the river Aare. We walked through the main street and also visited the place where one of the scenes from DDLJ was shot. It was a lovely small town with crystal blue lakes on both sides. This town is also famous for adventure sports like para-gliding amidst views of snow-capped mountains and crystal blue lakes. Unfortunately, we had no time left to try this and had to catch the last train back to Lucerne.
We were too tired to go out for dinner and so we made some instant noodles (our room had a kitchenette) that we had picked up at Interlaken. We had a quiet dinner on the balcony admiring the view of mount Pilatus.
Our 3rd day started with a journey in Golden Pass line from Lucerne to Montreux. First leg of the journey was Lucerne–Interlaken. It was a rainy day and we had pretty much thought of spending the day in the comfort of the train and enjoying the amazing landscape around one of the most scenic routes in Switzerland. The view was spectacular indeed. We changed our train for the next leg which was Interlaken-Zweisimmen. The Golden pass route is a dazzling Swiss countryside with mountains rolling all around it. It kept raining most of the time but the view was great nevertheless. The last leg of the route was Zweisimmen-Montreux. Montreux lies to the eastern end of Lake Geneva and is a French speaking town. There was one landmark that we wanted to see in Montreux which was a beautiful lake side castle named Château de Chillon. We took a bus to reach there from the station. We had to take the next return train for our journey back and didn't have the time to explore the castle from the inside, though we did manage to take plenty of pictures of it from the outside and admire its beauty.
For our return journey, we got to board the Classic variant of the Golden Pass train which had old styled wooden furnishings that took you back to another era. Having seen the scenery on that route on our onward journey, we made an uncharacteristic change to our plans and decided to get down at one of the little villages that we had passed by earlier. It was called Chateau d’Oex. As soon as we were out of the train, it started raining again. The rain could dampen our clothes but not our spirits. There were many elegant wooden alpine houses in that village, one of them turned out to be an inn. Partly to escape the rain and partly because we were feeling a little peckish due to not having had the chance to eat anything at Montruex, we decided to go in for a bite and a hot cocoa. The inn was warm and cosy inside with a fire crackling in the fireplace and several tables and sofas. There was traditional cheese making equipment on display which added to the charm of the inn and gave it a unique Swiss feeling. We ordered some food and hot beverages.
We then boarded the next train to get down at another small village - Saanen. We knew this town was where some of the iconic scenes from the DDLJ movie were shot (it has the famous ‘’Palat bridge’’). The village was charming to say the least. The streets were all eerily empty at the time, perhaps due to the light drizzle. Apart from a few passing cars once in a while, we seemed to have the village to ourselves. It had a small Church which seemed closed at first but upon closer inspection, turned out to be open. It was nice and warm inside so after spending a few minutes admiring the interior we decided to explore the rest of the town. There was small boarding school next to the church and we imagined what it would be like for the children to grow up in this paradise. There was also a small cemetery the likes of which I had never seen. All the graves had wonderfully carved wooden crosses and flowers growing around it. We spent some time wandering around the town taking countless pictures. When we visited the DDLJ bridge there was another Indian family there already taking pictures. The moment the lady saw me, she gave me a broad knowing smile - she had got someone to take a family picture for them. I was happy too and we spent a few minutes taking and posing for pictures at the iconic bridge to our hearts content.
The next train was sometime later so we decided to walk from Saanen to the next village - Gstaad. We had offline maps downloaded, but the hike pretty much went along the rail line which ran parallel to the river. By this time, the rain had stopped and the route between the two villages was littered with lush greenery and wooden alpine cottages. The river/stream had some wooden bridges at regular intervals. The snow capped mountains were ever looming in the background and peaked out occasionally from the cloud cover.
We reached Gstaad after around 40 mins of leisure walking. This walk was probably the highlight of the trip for me, because it was totally different to anything that I had experienced before. Gstaad is almost as pretty as Saanen (and as empty at the time) and was also another DDLJ filming location. We had some time to roam around in Gstaad and then decided to catch the next train back to Zweisimmen that we managed to catch just in time. Once we boarded the train, we came to know that it was the last train on that route for the day and had we missed it, we would have been stranded in Gstaad for the night. By the time we would have reached Zweisimmen, the last train to Interlaken would have departed. So we had to scramble to find another route. We got down at Spitz and took a train to Bern. There was a train from Bern to Lucerne at night which we managed to catch. It was very late in the night when we reached Lucerne, but we were glad that we made it back after the train adventures of that day.
We took early morning train from Lucerne to Geneva. Geneva is one of the major cities in Switzerland. Being on the French border, it has a predominantly French speaking population. We bought some souvenirs and went to explore Geneva. The first thing that you notice in the Lake is a large spray of water called the Jet d’Eau (meaning Jet of Water). The walk along the lake side promenade is pleasant and attracts a lot of tourists and locals alike. The Jardin de Anglais (or English Gardens) are right next to the lake promenade and are home to the national monument. It also has a curious little attraction called the Flower Clock which is literally a giant clock on the ground made from flowers. This short walk around the lake and across the city gave us a glimpse of the urban life in Switzerland. The time for our flight back home was approaching and we made our way back to the station to catch the train to the airport. We felt sad that our trip was coming to an end but also felt fortunate and grateful to have had the chance to visit this beautiful country. We made tonnes of wonderful memories that I know we will cherish throughout our lifetime.