July 6, 2011 by Leah
Grüezi! We are winding up our last day in Switzerland, which means we are admiring a picturesque Alpine town, listening to a rushing river, drinking beer, eating cheese, and feeling pretty much unable to walk.
We arrived in Zurich on Sunday morning after an unremarkable stop in the historical part of Philadelphia. We had our huge bags with us during the excursion to Philly, as is necessary in these post-9/11 days of no airport luggage lockers and no bags checked more than six hours early. The historical exhibits we checked out seemed rather apologetic (as they should be, really), and we decided not to stand in long lines in the hot sun only to have three weeks’ worth of luggage searched in order to see Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. We enjoyed the Christ Church graveyard, though, and paid our respects to Ben Franklin’s remains. Our $11 ‘Independence Pass’ that allowed us free access to the public transportation system that day was well worth it.
We arrived in Zurich on Sunday morning after one of the most uncomfortable flights I can remember. What happened to all the perks of flying internationally?! No free booze, seriously claustrophobic conditions… Yuck. At any rate, Sunday was my 30th birthday and, while I wanted to make the most of it, we kind of stumbled around in a fog. We missed the Chagall stained glass windows at the Frauenkirche as we arrived at the same time as the Sunday service was happening, but toured the Grossmunster (I particularly enjoyed the crypt) and the Swiss National Museum, both of which are well worth it. For dinner, we went to a restaurant called Alpenrose which advertised all-organic, all-Swiss-sourced food. After arriving at 6:15 (when the restaurant was supposed to open), disturbing a neighbor by going to the wrong door, and then standing on the sidewalk while said neighbor leaned in the open restaurant window to tell them they had customers waiting, we had what both of us agree was one of the best meals EVER. I had lamb ragout, Aaron had trout (but like steelhead, not rainbow), both of which came with homemade noodles and a side of Swiss (of course!) chard and peas in butter. Definitely a meal worthy of a special occasion, even if we were falling asleep towards the end.
Monday, we went to Bern. We walked all around and made some expensive mistakes taking the tram system, but had a good time anyway. (A chip-and-pin card, which I did not get, seems to be a necessity in Switzerland. My credit cards all have PIN numbers but I didn’t call in time for them to be mailed to me. We are using cash almost exclusively, as my Capitol One MasterCard, which is my only card with no international fees, isn’t being accepted at all, and my other cards have $3-5 usage fees plus 3% transaction fees.)
Highlights in Bern included the University’s botanical gardens, walking along the river Aare (I really wanted to swim in it like the locals were doing but didn’t have my suit handy), and some hazelnut chocolate we bought at a shop on Marktstrasse. We also had rosti (pretend there’s an umlaut on the “o”) for the first time, which is apparently one of the Swiss national dishes and is basically hash browns topped with delicious goodness (like morel sauce, or sausage and creamed leeks).
Yesterday, we took the train to Lauterbrunnen, in the Berner Oberlund (Bernese Highlands). We stopped in Interlaken for lunch and a meander, but Lauterbrunnen is much nicer. It’s exactly how you would imagine an Alpine village, complete with cows, sheep, and/or goats munching on various available meadows. Pretty much every house has an amazing kitchen garden (fennel is big here), of which I am in complete awe. We walked to a waterfall yesterday, only to discover it was a tourist attraction (kind of an underground waterfall?) to which the lift closed at 6. (We got there at 6.) Undeterred, we picnicked by a river.
This morning, we hiked from Lauterbrunnen to Wengen, which takes an hour and a half and has a 500 meter elevation gain. (Ow.) Then we took a gondola to Mannlichen, where we had lunch on a peak and then hiked hard for four hours around a beautiful valley surrounded by some amazing, imposing mountains. Upon arriving back in Wengen, we both agreed that paying the 4.80 CHF per person to take the train back to Lauterbrunnen was preferable to injuring ourselves due to tiredness. We are now relaxing with beer at our wonderful hostel and, once I feel able to stand, will cook some supper.
Tomorrow: Train to Dijon where we rent a car and drive to Lormes, for a five-day stay at a country house with friends. Hooray!