When people tell me that a certain city or country is “very beautiful”, I can usually appreciate the sentiment. Although, as a South African, I always hear the little voice in my head: “I bet South Africa is still more beautiful.” Well, my friends, I think I might have found the one country that could possibly come in at an extremely close second. (Because South Africa is still the most beautiful country in the world, and to me, always will be.)
I had been a mere hour in Zurich when my hosts kindly escorted me down to the harbor at the Zurich lake. One of the very first things I noticed, was how extremely clean the city is. Even the air felt clean – right in the center of the hustle and bustle. I also noticed how good the chocolate ice cream is. This was to be expected, but it had to be put to the test… for thoroughness.
It is true, unfortunately, that Switzerland is expensive – even in European terms. A cup of coffee won’t easily cost you less that 5 Swiss francs, about R80. But, as ever, there are ways to be smart about it. To me, rule number 1 of eating when traveling: avoid tourist spots at all costs. Prices are always much higher, and if you have to dine out, rule of thumb is that you can get an ever better, more specialized meal for much less at any of the local spots. So don’t be afraid to stop anyone that looks like they know what’s happening and ask them for ideas.
My time in Switzerland was limited – I knew my budget wouldn’t allow a stay longer than a week – and I divided my time between Zurich and Bern, since I had friends living in both. Interesting fact: if you tell anyone in Switzerland that you plan on going to Bern, they will reply with “why are you going to Bern?! It’s really not nice there.” So I had my doubts – even on my train ride there (which again, was expensive, BUT with the help of friends I downloaded the SBB Mobile app. Then they showed me how to get discount tickets, which there were a lot of, and I ended up traveling with about a 40% discount. Savvy?)
I then realised that all Swiss people are completely biased, because Bern might not be the nicest place in Switzerland, but it’s still nicer than most other places in the world – in looks at least. My hosts in Bern were kind enough to take me on a tour of the city in the afternoon. I highly recommend that whenever you do a tour of a city, you do it by foot. Some things just can’t be experienced in a moving car (or bus or train).
That one afternoon was the only time I spent in Bern because the friends I was staying with actually organised that we visit their parents who live about an hour from Bern by car, right in the mountains. We arrived late at night, so I woke up to the shock of my life when I looked out of the window and saw this:
The following day we took a road trip to Thun (also stunning) and after walking around in the city for a few hours we drove around the Thun Lake. When we arrived home – back in the mountains – I went for what I thought would be a short walk. I made my way up the Weissenburgberg and the views from the top absolutely took my breath away. I stood there for so long that a storm actually came up and only when it started raining could I peel myself away and start the walk home.
The day after I went back to Zurich. After Paris and Berlin I have to admit, I wasn’t very keen on going to any museums or galleries, so I just strolled around the city. Even in bad weather, the city was beautiful. My Zurich hosts took me to lunch at a place called Zeughauskeller. It was originally the old armory, built in 1487, and around 1925 it was slowly transformed into a restaurant. Which brings me to my next point. Since no war ever came to Switzerland, the buildings are all very old. And seeing that Switzerland is a wealthy country, these old buildings were always very well maintained. All of this adds to the beauty that is Switzerland.
Definitely coming back to this one.