Excitedly, off we set on our Easyjet flight bound for Geneva! The flight itself was only about an hour and a half and that was fine; we got there early evening and grabbed a taxi to get to our pre booked hotel. We had been warned how expensive Switzerland was and even by booking our trip we had already spent a small fortune on train passes and hotels; however nothing prepared us for the taxi cost. We travelled approximately 4 miles and sat watching the meter as it clocked up the equivalent of £5 waiting for a red light! After we coughed up 35 swiss francs (approx £27) we checked in at Ibis Centre Gare, our home for the next two nights. The hotel was nice enough; very basic and despite the fact we travelled with hand luggage only I was grateful for the fact I packed the travel kettle. We were quite tired that night and so decided to have an early one and wake up fresh for the next day. The next morning we went to the Coop shop just up the road to grab some breakfast. The hotel breakfast was £12 each so we decided against that and the Coop was job done! some bircher muesli and a pain au chocolat later and we were ready for the day! First stop was the famous Jet d’Eau or as Nigel renamed it ‘La Whoosh’. The Jet d’Eau is a large fountain which projects 500 litres of water up to an altitude of 140 metres and is also apparently visible from aeroplanes. We viewed it from Quai du Mont Blanc.
One good thing to know in Switzerland is that you can get free public transport passes from hotels when you check in which is very handy. We decided to get a yellow water taxi across to the other side of the lake to get a closer look of ‘Le Whoosh’. Nigel didn’t however just have a look he went and stood under it and got a soaking! lol
Our next stop was St Pierre Cathedral, the main Church of Geneva which is over 850 years old. The Cathedral is found on a slightly elevated hill in Geneva Old Town and combines various different styles including gothic and ancient. The cathedral now belongs to the Reformed Protestant Church of Geneva.
We had a comfort stop just outside the Church to sample the Vino Chaud which was basically like very sweet mulled wine but most welcome 🙂
We headed back towards our hotel through a place called Bel Air where I spent a long time trying to teach Nigel the theme song to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air but with his improvisations that was proving difficult.. he would get it by the end of the trip I would make sure! We stopped off at a nice little bar/restaurant called La Bagatelle and sampled the local beer before heading back for a rest before going out later for New Year’s Eve.
Armed with our own alcohol we headed out around 10pm and made our way to Quai du Mont Blanc where a few people had started to congregate. On the way we noticed that Geneva was currently having a Festival of Light so we enjoyed the sights on the way
We started off at Zone 1 which had local rap artists performing. They were pretty good and Nigel certainly enjoyed himself here! In the second zone there was Afro-Caribbean Music, the 3rd Zone had a disco funk and soul block party which was our favourite hang out and the last area had DJ’s performing music from Geneva’s electro scene. In the middle were portaloos, bars and plenty of places to eat. As it neared midnight it became pretty crowded but there was a good atmosphere for when the New Year rang in (though we nearly missed it still waiting after nearly an hour for our hot dogs!) Just before midnight however it decided to pour with rain but that didn’t dampen any spirits. The Kempinski Hotel put on a very good firework display and we had a very enjoyable night out.
Nursing a slight hangover the next day we waved goodbye to Geneva and headed to the train station. We grabbed a couple of rolls, crisps and a drink at the train station and I nearly fainted when I realised it cost £25! We caught the train to Brig arriving just after 2pm and found Hotel Europe and checked in. Up until this point we had been pretty disappointed by the lack of snow however we certainly found it by the time we arrived! We also had an amazing mountain view from our hotel window!
As previously stated we didn’t know a lot about Brig when we arrived. I had done some reading in advance about our trip and I was aware it was in the Valais Canton and sits at the bottom of the Simplon pass which leads to the Italian Border. I must have also read about thermal baths because I had the forethought to remind Nigel to pack swim stuff but had completely forgotten about this until we checked in. In reception there were leaflets for the Brigerbad Thermal Bath and we decided what better way to blast away a hangover than to go and laze in a thermal bath surrounded by mountains. We booked immediately with reception for 18 swiss francs each including the bus and entry and headed straight off. It took 15 minutes on the bus from the train station and was a lovely experience – just what we needed! More information about the bath can be found here: https://thermalbad-wallis.ch/en/
After feeling suitably relaxed we returned to Brig and went out to a local Italian restaurant and grabbed a pizza. The town was very pretty but due to the time of year it was pretty dead. We headed back to our hotel for some well earned sleep.
The next morning we had a very nice breakfast which included make your own muesli which was different and then headed off to Zermatt. The train to Zermatt was direct and took about an hour and 15 minutes. The weather that morning wasn’t so great and we weren’t too hopeful about seeing the Matterhorn however we decided to chance it and arrived there just after midday. The nearer we got to Zermatt the heavier the snow on the ground was. It was a lovely train ride there through mountains and valleys with rivers and the unusual stop of St Nicklaus which had a giant Santa at the station. We were wowed by Zermatt as soon as we arrived.
Zermatt is also in the Valais Canton but is at an elevation of 1600m. No cars are allowed in Zermatt only electric vehicles and you will find copious electric taxis flying around. It is a popular ski resort due to the access to several slopes from the town, ice skating and curling activities; however the main attraction for visitors is the Matterhorn. We didn’t see it upon arrival however we did note a break in the weather and decided to get the train up to Gornergrat which is at an elevation of 3,089m. This unfortunately was not included in our Swiss Pass although we did have a 50% discount and the return trip cost 76 Swiss francs for both of us (£58). We boarded the cog railway, said to be the highest open air cog railway in Europe and took the 33 minute ride to the top; stopping on the way to let skiers and snowboarders out to various slopes. The views at the top were amazing with a complete panoramic view of the mountains including the Matterhorn. It was however v v cold at approximately -11 degrees.
We had a lovely time at Gornergrat including discovering Jagertea which was extremely warming on such a cold day. We got very lucky with the weather because as we were up there is started blowing up a snow storm and became very windy. We headed back down on to train to Zermatt joined by several skiers due to the slopes being closed due to the turn in the weather.
Rather than return straight back to Brig we decided to stay for the evening in Zermatt and grab some dinner. We warmed up with some apple tea which we were disappointed to discover didn’t contain alcohol and decided to try fondue for dinner. Neither of us had had it before and being fans of any type of cheese we were quite excited to try it. Unfortunately many restaurants were fully booked but we managed to find a spot in the oldest restaurant in Zermatt, Du Pont, and ordered our Fondue with herbs. It was served with bread and potatoes.
Did we like fondue? well it was very rich and certainly not something you could eat a lot of… it was a very strong cheese in it which caused us to struggle somewhat and we may not try it again but when in Switzerland 🙂 By the time we left the restaurant it was getting dark and it really did look magical and still had a christmassy feel to it. Nigel made the obligatory snow angel and snow man!
We headed back to Brig stopping at Visp on the way for a coffee (McDonalds was the only place open and it cost £12.90 for a latte and a disgusting cappuccino). Upon our arrival it was snowing really heavily but we headed to bed excited for the next days adventures.
After our muesli breakfast we said goodbye to Brig and caught the 10.18 Glacier Express. We had 2 window seats reserved on a set of 4 and were lucky enough to not have anyone next to us. We settled down in our seats ready to enjoy the four hour trip ahead. We ordered a prosecco and awaited the stunning views about to befall us.
We were a little unlucky with the weather and hit a blizzard high up in the mountains so we couldn’t see much at times but it was a great experience nonetheless, We had potato soup, Pork Medallion with Pepper Sauce (Nigel had the veggie option) and apple pie for dessert. The food was nice enough though I wouldn’t recommend the 3 course option due to the lack of choice of the menu; just reserve a seat and order what you fancy as it didn’t make much difference price wise. We ended our trip with a glass of grappa (not free unfortunately) and if you’re into drinking paint stripper then this is the drink for you – it was pretty darn awful as Nigel’s face shows in the pics above!
We arrived in Chur and google mapped the hotel discovering there was a bus that stopped directly outside. We arrived at the hotel around 3pm a little disappointed to discover our hotel (Ibis Chur) was in the middle of a retail park. Not looking like a quaint little Swiss town as we imagined. The hotel itself was actually ok but we encountered a small problem with charging our phones; so far around Switzerland we had managed to use our 2 pin Euro adapters however they wouldn’t work here. When I asked at reception they said we needed the specific swiss adapter which looks like a kettle lead with two prongs; luckily they lent this to us free of charge however it is worth noting gb to euro adapters don’t work everywhere here. After recharging our own batteries as well as our phones we headed out early evening to discover what else there was to see of Chur.
Chur (pronounced a bit throatily like “whore” lol) is in the Graubunden Canyon and you can also get the Bernina Express train from here over the alps into Italy. It was big town and we had a short look around the Old Town which was quite pretty before settling down in a nice bar called Street Cafe for a vodka and diet coke and a Jager and redbull. We had a couple here and had a nice chat with the server. We also went to another called Qbar which was also nice but pretty quiet. Be warned if you’re on a budget however these drinks cost £25 per round eek. Wanting a little snack we ended up grabbing the only thing that was open Mcdonalds which neither of us enjoyed before heading back to our hotel.
The weather still wasn’t much better the next day when we left Chur and headed onto Sargans to grab the bus into Liechtenstein. There were no issues with this transfer; so far we had been extremely impressed by the transport system in Switzerland, everything was clean and on time. It made a nice change from signalling faults, leaves on the line and the ‘wrong kind of snow’ which causes service disruption in the UK. Vaduz was a lovely town it was just very cold and wet upon our arrival. We stopped and had a coffee and a roll and sent a postcard to a friend whilst there.
After returning back from Vaduz to Sargans we had a choice of where to visit on our way back; unfortunately we had to return to Geneva tonight as our Swiss Travel Pass ran out at midnight but we needed to decide if we wanted to stop on the way back. The train back to Geneva stopped at Zurich for a change and Nigel was very excited to visit here to see the FIFA Museum; not my idea of fun and I hoped they would have a women’s creche (aka a bar) but I reluctantly agreed – the things you do for love!
We got a tram from Zurich Central station and found the museum easily and I was in luck! there was indeed a creche on the ground floor which is where I parked myself for the next hour or so whilst Nigel was in footy heaven. Here are some pics he took from the tour:
It was now 7pm and still with a little way to go we headed back to the Central station and caught the train bound for Geneva. Bern was en route so we decided to stop here for dinner. Unfortunately we didn’t get too much time here as we would have loved to have explored the capital city in more depth; however we didn’t venture far from the station due to time constraints but grabbed a Burger King (£25 for two meals!) and a drink in Retro Bar before heading back for our final leg to Geneva.
We arrived back in Geneva at approximately 23.30 just in time to make the check in for our hotel for the night which shut at midnight. Upon arrival at Hotel Bernina which is a stones throw from the station we were met by a very welcoming receptionist who was happy to chat and and help us with any queries. We borrowed a converter for our phones and settled down for the night. It had been an epic and very tiring day and we had travelled an impressive distance into Liechtenstein and back through Switzerland.
The next day was our last day in Switzerland; we were flying back on an evening flight to London Gatwick and therefore decided to make the most of our last day and explore Geneva further. Armed with our transport pass from reception we headed down past ‘Le Whoosh’ and headed further round to see more of Lake Geneva. Before heading to the Old Town in search of swiss chocolate. We headed back to our hotel, collected our bags and caught the train back to the airport before flying home.
All in all we had a lovely trip and although we were sad to be leaving our bank balance was certainly relieved. Switzerland was very expensive compared to UK prices however from discussion with some locals the wages paid are way higher. Despite the fact 1 swiss franc is approximately 75p wages for staff are way higher; as an example a bartender will can earn 3000 swiss francs a month and refuse collectors 65-70000 a year. Despite the high prices we were very impressed by the transport system which was efficient and clean and ran like clockwork. It was effortless to travel around Switzerland by train and worth doing if you are able to afford it. This was a special occasion trip for my birthday and as much as we loved Switzerland we have no plans to come back purely because of the costs. We would highly recommend Zermatt, our favourite place from the whole trip, with great transport links up to the Matterhorn and surrounding areas. If you have the money it is an ideal place to escape the stresses and strains of daily life and take to the slopes or breathe in the mountain air.
Carol & Nigel xx
December 2017/January 2018