Archive for – switzerland

Review on our Europe trip in 2012

Before the tour
This was our honeymoon trip that took us close to 4 months of research and planning. We went on the free & easy and not the tour package option, for our belief is honeymoon has to be exclusive to only the couple. In planning for a trip we considered many factors, and slowing scaling down into smaller details.

• Started by deciding which part of the world we are visiting
• Deciding on which season of the year for travel
• Zooming into the specific countries
• Deciding on the total amount of days for the trip
• Breaking down the days and nailing the specific city/town of each country
• Research on the key sightsee and highlights of each location
• Research on the flight entry and depart location
• Research on specific train timing and connection points
• Research on accommodation
• Estimate the budget for accommodation, transport, food, sightsee, shopping etc
• Read up travel blogs and watch out for recommendations, warnings, feedbacks etc

In summary we came up with the following travel plan:
Fly into Italy, Rome. Fly back from France, Paris

8 days Italy
Rome -> Florence/Pisa -> Venice

7 days Switzerland
Lucerne -> Interlaken -> Bern

7 days France
Colmar -> Strasbourg -> Paris

My itinerary plan can be found here. From my blog you could see that some of the days did not follow the plan exactly. We did some swapping but I did not update the itinerary to reflect them – too much hassle.

Therefore my travel log is based on our research and actual experience of the places of visit within the shouldering season (Winter -> Spring) in April. It does not serve as a detailed planning tool for these countries, but more so as a memory keep sake for us as travel logs. However you should still be able to benefit from some of my research, useful links, and my actual experience in these countries.

 

Country & Culture
All 3 countries have their unique culture. Of them we like Switzerland best.

 

Weather
April is a shouldering season where this region transits from Winter into Spring. The temperature differs from regions but is generally on the low side, bringing nice and cooling weather all day round. At some parts it could get really cold when the rain combine with wind, so proper clothing is required to travel at this time of the year. Switzerland is the coldest of all these 3 countries, and we love it best.

 

Food
Italian food is rather different from Swiss and French. Italian dishes contain lots of cheese and can get quite “jelat”. Swiss and French dishes are much more balanced. In term of pricing, Switzerland is the most expensive, Italy in the mid range, and France being more economical.

 

Shopping and Money matters
Both Italy and France uses Euro, while Switzerland uses its own Francs. These are major currencies and can be easily found at most money changers.

Over a long trip it might cost up to 5 figures dollars. To carry that amount of cash would be rather dangerous. Imagine you are pickpocket or extorted half way through the trip. With such risks many travellers will chose to bring cash to cover for food and sightseeing, while leaving the major bills like accommodation and transports to credit cards. For us, we bought along SGD9,000 of cash to last the entire trip. It was a risk but we prefer not to incur additional charges from credit cards. To play safe, we split the cash into many different portions, hidden throughout the body.

 

People and Languages
The locals generally do not disturb us, with exception of some that were rude to us. Give them the respect and they will do likewise. Swiss are the friendliest and well mannered.

Italy and France uses its own language while Switzerland is slightly special. Depending on which part of Switzerland you might hear the local speaking Italian, French, or German. Most part within Switzerland uses German language. English is known for most locals, especially at tourist areas. Thus you should not have an issue if you can only communicate in that. Just pick up a few common sentences such as “Thank you”, “Sorry” in the various languages. If you can’t speak their language or English, then you might have difficulty travelling. For example if you only speak Japanese or Mandarin. But if you can’t understand English, you wouldn’t be even reading this blog of mine.

 

Photography
It is safe to carry big and bulky SLR, as long as you keep it strap to you at all times. Do not leave your equipments unattended to. Not even for a minute, as it might go missing when you just turn your head around. Same goes for luggage, keep it within contact at all times!

In the past I travel rather heavy on photography equipments, carrying a few lenses and filters. This time round, I went with my Canon 5D II (without the battery grip), a 24-105L f4, EX430 II, tripod. That’s all. In fact I could have left my external flash at home as I probably only use it for less than 10 shots throughout the trip. I prefer natural lighting and often make do with wide aperture and higher ISO. When it is appropriate for me to have my tripod mounted, it will then be up.

On the whole if you are using a compact point & shoot, that will be easy and light to handle. But for me, I prefer to have the control over my photos so I do not go for anything lesser than an SLR. You might also want to bring along a prosumer level where you get a fixed lens but robust features to adjust the aperture and shutter.

If you are using SLR please consider bringing a wide angle lens as many landscapes require that. If possible bring lenses that has wide aperture. Those bigger than f2.8 are good. Anything below f2 is ideal for low light. I wanted to keep it simple so I went with a general lens that gives flexibility range from 24-105mm. Only thing is to trade that with a f4 aperture that is bad for indoor low light or night shots.

 

Places I enjoyed
We enjoyed many places in Italy as they really have a rich art history. Their buildings are very nicely decorated. Switzerland is probably my favourite as I am a nature lover. Mountains, lakes, and trees make me go crazy. Especially when it is slow pace.

 

Necessary items
Depending on your time of travel, you will need different clothing. But the generic items should not be missed.

• Socket or power convertor for your gadgets (check it out here)
• Maps (or you can get it when you are at the hotels)
• Washing detergent and hanger if you are travelling for a long period
• Medication
• Money pouch
• Photocopy of your important documents
• A good pair of walking shoe
• A smaller backpack for carrying items when you are out for the day
• Umbrella
• Lip balm especially if you are from a more humid country

The rest of the necessity items like money and stuffs for shower should be a no brainer.

 

Useful links
I will list those links pertaining to the specific country in the individual country review. Over here are generic links that are helpful throughout the trip.

Rick Steves Travel Guide
http://www.ricksteves.com

Guide to travelling Europe using rails
http://www.seat61.com

Eurail pass official website
http://www.eurail.com

Rail Eurail SG
http://www.raileurope.com.sg

Accomodation Booking.com
http://www.booking.com

Trip Adviser
http://www.tripadvisor.com

 

Review on our Switzerland trip in 2012

Before the tour
Anyone who loves nature will fall in love with Switzerland easily. I did and still am.

Using the word beautiful on Switzerland is an understatement. This country is so untouched in many ways, with so many gems to offer. It might not have a rich history that span through centuries of wars and art, but it is a piece of land that maintained its tranquillity by avoiding all those.

Mountains and lakes are a given in this country, but there are not all. Beside well known for these awesome sceneries, Switzerland is also known for its high quality precision watch making. Many of the world finest and recognised brands come from them. If you are someone who appreciate timepiece, you might want to do your research of the prices at your home country.

We chose this country as it sits nicely linking between Italy and France. Most importantly I seen so many beautiful pictures of this country, and I must be here myself to own my own keep sake.

When doing research you probably only get limited information. Back in Singapore you will always see travel guide book as Switzerland. You are unlikely to find a guide that specialist or feature a particular city or town of Swiss. Unlike say Italy you have an entire guide book on Rome, on Florence, on Venice. So be aware that with limited information, it makes planning tougher for remote places.

 

Country & Culture
Switzerland is totally surrounded by other countries. This means that the country does not touch any bit of the sea. It is enclosed by Italy, France, Germany, and Austria. Although Swiss has a long tradition of neutrality in its international relations, it does take on some influence from the countries around it, for example in term of language, which will be explained below.

This country has very low crime rate. You are pretty much safe in most part of the country. Swiss also love their country a lot to keep it clean at all times. We did not even see a single litter throughout our entire time in Switzerland.

 

Weather
Generally this is a cold country. The higher mountains are covered with snow all year round. Most of the places experience the 4 seasons, and you can even see snows in sea level city like Lucerne during Winter. Most of the time you get gloomy days where the entire sky is grey white, but there are also days when you get blue skys. The weather can change quite fast depending on the season.

 

Food
Face it. It is a fact that Swiss standard of living is high and thus food is expensive. Food is easily 3 to 4 times more expensive than our hometown Singapore. Well the portions don’t increase 3 or 4 folds though. As for the taste and variety, it is really a good spread. We managed to get a balance from vegetables to meat. Oh! Never ever forget Swizz chocolates, they are made with high quality. It is a must try.

 

Shopping and Money matters
You definitely want to visit Switzerland and return back home with a timepiece that is made and assembled there. I gotten a Longines, not only is it cheaper than Singapore, it is assembled in Switzerland. I repeat – assembled. There are many good brands such as Rolex, IWC, PP, and so on.

When it comes to money, Switzerland uses Franc. You do not need worry about people pick pocketing or trying to scam you of your cash. But I am not saying you should walk around with your money pouch open for invitation.

 

People and Languages
Swiss does not have its own language. Depending on the region you are at, you can find Swiss speaking German (64% of the population) in central and eastern areas. Speaking French (20%) in the west, and speaking Italian (7%) in the south. However English (as a second or third language) is widely spoken.

Swiss are very mannered and friendly people. At least through our encounters with them, we feel so.

 

Photography
When it comes to photography in Switzerland, I only recommend using a SLR. Some people say that a good photographer takes great shots with the simplest camera. It is true and can be done. But trust me, in a country like this where the scene opens up to be magnificent, you really want something that give the edge. SLR allows you to control the focal length, in most cases a wide angle lens is superior. You need good filters as well, in order to capture the spectrum of shades, especially when snow is in composition.

Imagine a bright sky with a mountain having white snow on its tip but green pasture towards the bottom, and you are standing infront of a lake that reflects lights but the sun is at your back thus casting your face into shadows. Without filters then you make sure you shoot in RAW and have excellent photo editing skills to create the perfect exposure of that shot.

A tripod is always welcome.

Overall Switzerland has too many stunning scene that will become “picture perfect” even if you anyhow click.

 

Places I enjoyed
Too many to list down. For the limited places we toured in this round of Switzerland, I will say every bit of it except for Bern.

 

Useful links
Switzerland Travel Guide
http://www.worldtravelguide.net/switzerland

Switzerland Official Tourism site
http://www.myswitzerland.com

Switzerland holidays
http://www.feiertagskalender.ch

Switzerland Railway website
http://www.sbb.ch

Swisspass
http://www.swisspasses.com

Lucerne Official site
http://www.luzern.com

Lucerne SGV Boats
http://www.lakelucerne.ch

Mount Rigi
http://www.rigi.ch

Mount Pilatus
http://www.pilatus.ch

Mount Jungfrau
http://www.jungfrau.ch

Interlaken Official site
http://www.interlaken.ch

Bern Official site
http://www.bern.com

 

2012 Europe Trip Day 9 – Switzerland : Lucerne

18 Apr 2012

This was our last day in Italy and the earliest day we climbed out of bed. We woke up at 4.30am, boarded the 6am train from Venice to Milan, which we then had to change train from Milan to Arth-Goldau, and followed by another train from Arth-Goldau to Lucerne. Together with the 45 minutes delayed, it took us almost 8 hours to reach Lucerne.

We have been sitting in 1st class coach since we are only allowed to purchase Eurail at 1st class cost. Thus far we were given welcome drinks on all the Italian train. When we boarded the Eurocity to Switzerland, we asked for a bottle of mineral water and were charged €3.80. The service staff did not have change for my €5 note, and I did not have sufficient coins to make that amount. Eventually we ended up getting one small biscuit at €2.40, making the total amount at €6.20 (In a supermart I could get both at less than €1.50). Therefore be careful when you asked for drinks on the trains. Do check if that 1st class coach is giving free drinks or are they charging you for it.

As usual we were watching movies and drama on our laptop. After some time the surrounding changed. We are zooming past really old buildings. Buildings made up on grey, dull brown, giving a very old age industrial feeling. We couldn’t make out if we were at the border of Italy or Switzerland. After some more time the scene changed into landscape of mountains, cottage houses by the hills and lakes, and we knew that we were already in Switzerland. We took some time to admire the new scene, something that we do not get to experience in Italy thus far. After a while we got used to it and focus back on our laptop screen, until…………

We saw white flakes flying outside the window. For a moment I thought what was happening, then to realise that those were snowflakes. Initially they came in light amount, just like rain drizzle. After something like 10 minutes, we were just zooming pass snow mountains, with snow covering everything. This was the first time I seen snow in my life. This scene lasted for a good 20 minutes or so, we passed by Goschenen station, through a few tunnels, and the snow mountains fade back into green pastures.

Eventually we arrived at Lucerne. The temperature was much colder than Italy, and the scene that greeted us was amazing. Lucerne’s background consists of mountains and lakes. Simply beautiful. We had to take a 15 minute walk from the Luzern station to our hotel. Upon check-in, we were reluctant to leave the room. The room is big, comfortable (finally a hotel that is really like a hotel!) and sheltered us from the cold temperature.

Hotel Restaurant Weinhof
Weystrasse 12
Luzern, 6006
Switzerland

We would love to stay in the room but our stomachs were growling and we hit the streets in search of food. While walking through the shopping district, we realised that food price is rather steep, and much more expensive than Italy. Simple pastry to a meal in the restaurant seems to cost about 20-30% more than Italy. We needed time to adjust to this new costing, and decided to take the safe food – McDonalds (boring isn’t it). Safe food doesn’t mean cheap food, as one meal cost CHF 14 (SGD20) and they charge CHF0.20 for a packet of ketchup! In Singapore a similar meal is around SGD5 at time of writing (you could buy 4 SG McDonald’s meal with 1 of Swiss). The difference is way too great. Oh by the way, McDonald’s is already the cheapest meal we could find in the street of Lucerne.

Initial itinerary was to take the SBV ferry using our Eurail pass but thought that it will be wiser to explore the streets, especially after having been on transport for 7 hours. We wander around the lake, explored Old Town Boulevard, and crossed the Chapel Bridge (one of Europe’s oldest wooden bridges and landmark of Lucerne).

I wanted to purchase a watch but chose to adopt the look-around attitude. We went into the bigger watch outlet, Bucherer (where people get butchered!) and the shop is filled with mainlanders. They swept the watches like groceries shopping. One of them even told the counter staff that his credit limit is more than $100,000. They are really wealthy but they dressed like country side folks. Come to think about it, having more money is more important than anything else!

The Old Town Boulevard is rather small and easily covered in an hour. It was nearing sunset when we headed for the Museggmauer. It is really a nice trail for a stroll. There are a total of 9 towers but only 3 of them are accessible. We only managed to climb the Zeitturm before the guard chased us out and locked all the towers. Nevertheless I managed to get some interesting shots of the tower’s interiors. With the Museggmauer, we wandered back to Old Town Boulevard while waiting for the sunset as I wanted a twilight shot of the Chapel Bridge. Back in Old Town, with shops closing down and crowd disappearing. We have yet adjusted to the cost of their restaurants, and thus ended up having McDonald’s for dinner (super boring isn’t it!).

After getting sick of the burgers and fries, we went for the last agenda of the day. My twilight Chapel Bridge. With the night coming, the temperature dropped drastically and we had to put our gloves on.