I was drawn to Switzerland because of the mountains. It seemed like this faraway land had an abundance of peaks and limitless challenging summits. I wasn’t wrong. The first week in Switzerland has delivered some unbelievable hikes, panoramic views from several thousand meters and we have been challenged in more ways than one.
I thought in this edition of ‘The Weekly’, I would share with you my nine first impressions of Switzerland. I’ll also add in my favorite photos of the week.
1. Swiss people are high on enthusiasm
From the moment I arrived at the airport, the attendants and shopkeepers were quite relaxed. Unlike many countries where people who are involved in customer service or repetitive task-based jobs, the Swiss people I encountered welcome you with a smile, know the ins and outs of their job and don’t make you feel like a hassle or a burden. In fact, many of the train customer service representatives have been so enthusiastic I thought they might be on some kind of substance. We would walk in to buy a train ticket and come out with a leaflet of hiking guides and they would start searching for trailheads and directions on their computer to help us find our way despite a line of people waiting behind us. Keep smiling Switzerland.
2. Switzerland is bloody expensive!
Everyone warned me and I told them it would be okay. They were right but so was I. Switzerland as been quite expensive and often unavoidable. For example, the trains have often hit us with $50-$90 USD per day tickets just to visit a hike 1.5 hours away with a return trip. I bought a yearly half-far card, which softens the blow but nevertheless, when the public transport system is unavoidably expensive it can make it tough to stick to the budget.
The grocery store has similar prices to Australia and all of the hikes have been free so we have saved a bit in that department. Restaurants aren’t cheap so we have avoided those at all costs. A restaurant meal often costs $25-$40 USD.
The accommodation has been a mix of locals hosting us, cheap Airbnb’s and a friend renting us his apartment with a car included. The Airbnb we have used has been in a random suburb and was $40 USD per night per person and the other was $12 USD per night per person. Those prices are not normal and we got lucky. A hostel in a bunk-bed dorm in Zurich was $60-$80 USD. One of Josh’s friends has rented us his car and entire apartment in Fribourg for two weeks for $1500 total, which is essentially a car rental with free accommodation. While it may sound expensive it is quite cheap for Switzerland and will give us a great base for two solid weeks of adventures. This is not budget life in Bali.
3. The hikes have been otherworldly
We knew Swiss nature would be insane and it has delivered. The highlight was probably sitting atop of Oeschinensee, which is an alpine lake we hiked to. All alone at golden hour, just four lads playing up in the mountains we couldn’t believe our eyes. Scores of waterfalls flowed down from the snow-0capped mountains into the vibrant blue alpine lake. It seemed so beautiful it was fake. That has kind of been the standard here in Switzerland. We’ve done five hikes in our first 8 days and the legs are feeling it with over 9,000m of incline in week one completed.
4. It’s swelteringly hot
It’s hot, Unexpectedly hot. I think Europe is going through a heatwave. I’m currently sitting on a train with the sun beaming through the window. It’s 39 degrees today. I did not imagine it would be this hot and for so long. I’m yet to wear pants or even a hooded jacket out here in Switzerland. It’s great weather but has made for some sweaty hikes and smelly train rides home late at night. Apologies to our fellow passengers. The sun has been setting after 9 pm, which has meant we have finished hikes at 10 pm and even once we returned home at 2 am after 42km of walking in total. That hiking day (That hike needs its own blog post! Imagine 4 guys walking through the forest in the dark at 1230 am looking for a train station!!)
5. They have a love affair with cheese
Whether it be a fondue cheese fountain, Raclette (A cheese barbecue), or classic camembert on bread, the Swiss love cheese like Filipinos love rice. It ain’t a meal without it. While that may sound like heaven, Josh and I have just about hit our cheesy quota after just one week in Switzerland. If I could replace cheese with watermelon for the next week we would be golden.
6. Efficiency is king
Trains run on time. They are rarely late and if they are it is by less than a minute. Things work, trails are properly signed, maps are accurate and systems are in place for everything. The level of efficiency almost makes you feel like the high accommodation, food, and train prices are worth the high-functioning systems across the country.
7. FREE-flowing water!
After years in Asia, it’s awesome to be back in the land of free water. Switzerland takes it one step further with fountains in every city and seemingly on every corner, where you can just fill up your bottle. It makes it very easy to stay hydrated and to avoid plastic bottles. We just carry our reusable bottle every day and we are set.
8. Switzerland is full of genius engineers
We have been marveling all week at the many little inventions and ideas that the Swiss have implemented to make life flow. Whether it be a level that separates your shopping at the checkout so there is no delay for the next person while you collect your goods or the bike rail that helps you roll your bike down the stairs. The Swiss seem to find a problem and fix it, countrywide. It’s become a bit of a game for us to spot new Swiss inventions or moments of ingenuity that we haven’t encountered before. Granted we haven’t been to Germany, the epicenter of efficiency but for now… we are impressed daily.
9. Switzerland is incredibly clean
I didn’t expect it to be dirty but even places like Australia are not that clear of the trash. The last beach cleanup I did in Australia we collected 250kg of trash. In Switzerland, there has been hardly any plastic on the trails. There are no vendors selling plastic snacks like chocolate or chips. There have been a few cigarette butts but it is minimal even in the cities. Locals can be seen putting their plastic bottles in the recycling machines, with no financial compensation. They are just doing it because it is the right thing to do. There is a high level of social responsibility in Switzerland that I’ve not witnessed elsewhere and as a collective, the country maintains high standards in safety and cleanliness that are truly a living example the world can aim to replicate