If you had the opportunity to go anywhere during the winter, where would it be? For me, nothing screamed “Winter Wonderland” and Christmas time, like Switzerland. So, my last free weekend before Winter Break, that's exactly where I went.
Ever since I moved to Sweden, visiting Switzerland in the Winter was something I have been wanting to do. Switzerland wouldn't feel like Switzerland without the snow capped mountains and cozy village atmosphere. So, when Europe went into a second lockdown at the end of October, I worried my Winter Wonderland fantasies in Switzerland would also not come true. Luckily, like Sweden, Switzerland never went into a lockdown, and better yet, didn´t close their borders to tourists.
2 weeks before my trip, I booked my flight from Stockholm to Zurich. I knew I wanted to see the Swiss Alps and eat some authentic Swiss cheese and chocolate, but apart from that, I had no real expectations. I booked a day trip to the highest point in Europe in the Swiss Alps, along with 2 free walking tours of the city, packed my backpack, and was on my way.
Friday afternoon, when checking into my flight, I had my first, “You should have just stayed home” moment. Once I arrived at the airport, I realized I had left my mask at home. In Sweden it is rare that you will see anyone wearing a mask, and it is not a requirement to wear anywhere. In fact, even at the airport it is only a “recommendation.” But, you need one on your flight. So, I annoyingly paid 3 dollars for a disposable one at the 1 convenience store open.
Already annoyed about having to over pay for a disposable mask, I didn´t have the patience when Karen approached me in line for customs. She rudely asked me to give her more space, although we were both standing on the stickers places 1.5 meters (equivalent to 6 ft) apart. Sticky out your hand and shooing be back, only meant you got closer to me. Even the security guard exchanged an eye roll with me. Covid really brings out the Karens…
Eventually it was time to board my flight, and I was off to Zurich. Disembarking the plane, I was greeted by the most festive airport I had ever been in. There were Christmas lights and trees everywhere, along with Christmas music. It cheered me right up and made me excited for my weekend in Switzerland. I made my way to the train ticket counter, asked for a ticket to the city, and waited for the train to come in giddy happiness. That happiness was soon lost, when I connected to wifi, and found out my trip to the Alps the next day had been cancelled.
Now, traveling during Covid times means I am more than aware there will be a bump or two in my travel road. But, when your trip is less than 12 hours away, you would figure things are in the clear and you won´t have any problems. Wrong. The company that I scheduled my trip with shared that the numbers were too low to run the tour, and in fact all of Switzerland wasn´t offering tours to the Alps at this time. I was so close, but yet so far.
As I waited for my train to come, I pouted and complained about how hard of a life I had. I was mad at the tour company for waiting until now to tell me of the change. I was mad at Covid for ruining yet more of my plans. I was mad at myself for being so optimistic and thinking I could still have a semi normal trip. On the verge of tears, Christ spoke to me.
Philipp Christ is a long lost German friend I met while living in Australia. When Shayna and I took a trip to the Outback, he was on the same tour as us. Ironically enough, he had just recently moved to Zurich, and reached out when he saw that I too was there. With being new to Switzerland himself, he didn't have any insight on how to get to the mountains, but did agree to meet up the next day to catch up. I hopped on my train to the city with new confidence, ready for my weekend in Switzerland.
When looking at “Where to Spend a Weekend in Switzerland,” I came across a capsule hotel. Having never stayed in one, and always wanting to try something new and different, I figured now would be the time to see what the hype was all about. They are a big thing in Asia. For those who do not know what a capsule hotel is, think of a glorified hostel. In a giant room, there are endless bunk beds, all with enclosed walls. Definitely not for someone who is claustrophobic. With my previous experiences in hostels, I thought this would be 1 way to have more privacy and stay further away from the crazies. Boy, was I wrong. The capsule hotel had about 60 capsules, which meant you could hear all 60 people leaving, talking, changing, ect…In addition to it not being all that quiet, I also had Crazy Claudia as my bunk mate. Claudia rarely spoke English, so I thankfully don´t know all of what she said. When she did speak in English, she would say things along the lines of, “God can't save you!” or “It's your fault you are a dirty and ugly person.” She would pace about the hotel saying this under her breath and to guests, as well as stand on the balcony and scream it at passerbyers. I even got lucky 1 night to be awakened to her in my capsule screaming it to my face. Another girl got in a physical fight to shut her up as well… Felt a bit like an Orange is the New Black episode as I was curled up in my cell watching a girl fight below. Needless to say, I won't be staying at a capsule hotel anytime soon.
Bright and early Saturday morning, I made my way to the train station, bound and determined to see some mountains. I walked up to the information desk, and asked them where I could go. You could tell this was not a question they got asked often, and proceeded to ask me if there was a specific mountain or city I wanted to see. With nothing particularly in mind, they recommended Mt. Rigi since it was just 2 train rides and hours away. I happily bought my tickets, and was on my way.
I picked a window seat facing the mountains, and had my nose pressed to the glass the whole trip. Unfortunately, the city itself did not have snow, and the first bit of the ride was through a tunnel. But, after 15 minutes, our train emerged in a winter wonderland. I felt like I was on the Polar Express. The mountains were right in front of me. There was a fresh, white blanket of snow. You could see lakes and rivers in the distance, as well as little villages. I was the happiest girl aboard. Just like aboard the Polar Express, a conductor walked up and down the aisles asking for tickets. The Swiss spoke a lot less English than I expected, but I enjoyed hearing, “Dankeschön,” after my ticket was punched. Switzerland does not have their own Swiss language, but rather they speak a Swiss version of German.
After an hour aboard a regional train, I arrived in Arth-Bahn, a small Swiss town. From there I boarded a cogwheel train to the top of Mt Rigi.
Now, I don't know what I expected a cogwheel train to be, but what I rode was not it. The 50 minute ride up the mountain was in a small, trolly type train. It went incredibly slow, but the views were amazing. There were 5 stops along the mountain, each in a small village or the start of a trail. A couple people got off at each stop, but most stayed and disembarked at the top of Mt Rigi. The mountains, and cold air, took your breath away. For as far as you could see, there were white capped mountains and snow. My fingers froze as I took my selfie timer pictures and videos. My tennis shoes and jeans were definitely not enough to stay warm. I took a short hike to an observation deck, and warmed up in the cafe. The map showed places to go tobogganing down the mountain, as well as ski and tube. Since I had never skied, and knowing how accident prone I can be, I thought tobogganing would be a better idea. Unfortunately, due to covid, they did not offer it this year. Still on cloud 9, I boarded a different train to the lake and village below. With this journey, we went through the fog and could see the little village sitting on the lake below. It looked like something out of a movie. I wandered around the village and grabbed lunch, before I was on my way back up to the top of the mountain and off to my train back to Zurich. It was the most magical few hours of my life thus far.
Back in Zurich that afternoon, I changed out of my wet socks, and made my way to an outdoor Christmas popup bar/market to meet Philipp. We had mulled wine (hot, spiced wine) and caught up after not seeing each other the past couple years. We also made friends with the locals.
Now, apart from the mountains, another must I wanted to do while in Switzerland, was eat cheese. Primarily, fondue. I found a cute, local place that specialized in just that. I got a large pot of piping hot cheese, along with a basket of bread, and stuffed my face. I must say, although the fondue was good, the 40 dollars I paid wasn't quite worth it.
Switzerland, and primarily Zurich, are extremely expensive. In fact, they are arguably the most expensive country and city in the world. Switzerland is the European business capital. Everywhere you look you see designer clothing, stories, and sports cars. I was by far the poorest person there, and definitely couldn't afford to stay longer than a weekend.
Mosing home, I found endless Christmas Markets, twinkling lights, and festive trees. I´m not the biggest holiday person, but Zurich would put even the biggest Scrooge in a Christmas mood. Mulled wine, hot chocolate, and cider was sold on the streets, and music was being played. You would have no idea we were in a pandemic with the amount of people out and about, and how full stores and restaurants were. By far the most open country and city I had been in in the last year.
That night, while hearing Crazy Claudia get into it with another girl, I noticed my credit card was missing. Not thinking too much of it, and being filled with Christmas spirit and mulled wine, I left that for Sunday´s problem.
Sunday morning started with a deep clean in my backpack, wallet, and coat. Being quite careful with where I put my things, I always kept my passport and credit cards on me, even as I slept. Without finding it anywhere, I thought that I might have accidentally thrown it out with my train tickets and receipts the previous day. I now was the one looking like Crazy Claudia as I dug through the garbage, looking for my pretty pink credit card. It still was not found. I asked the receptionist if anyone had turned a card in. Unfortunately she could not speak English, and did not understand what I was saying. I called the English speaking manager, who shared he did not see one, but would let me know if anyone turned one in.
With my walking tour not starting until 10am, I had a couple hours to retrace my steps and figure out where it may be. I walked to the place I had dinner and asked if they had seen a card. Unfortunately, they too did not speak great English, but through charades, managed to figure out what I was asking… and shared they did not see my card. Disappointed, but not too frazzled, I walked back to my hotel to cancel my card. Luckily it had not been used, and customer service was quick and nice. I had planned to close my Australian bank account soon, but losing my card made me realize all the more it was time to officially close that chapter of my life and move on. I moved the last of my AUD to my USD account, and said my goodbyes to ANZ banking. (I highly recommend them for anyone moving to Australia and New Zealand!)
Relieved it wasn't my passport or Swedish debit card that was gone, I made my way to my walking tour. It was on the walk there, that I realized what likely happened to my pretty pink debit card. When I returned to the hotel Saturday night, I had put my coat with my card in it in my capsule, as I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth and get ready for bed. I was gone for no more than 3 minutes, but noticed Crazy Claudia by my things as I came out. Not thinking anything of it, since it wasn´t the first time she was being nosy, I went to bed that night unbothered at not having my card and thinking I had just misplaced it. With a clear head, I´m now fairly certain she took it that night. Just another reason to spend a little extra on a good hostel or private room...
The last thing I had planned to do in Zurich, was a history tour of the city, as well as a “modern business and architecture” tour. Every major city has “free walking tours” where a local walks around the city for about 2 hours pointing out different buildings and sharing the history. At the end of the tour, you can give a tip. It has been a great way to see the city cheaply, and I tend to meet some fun, and interesting, people. Unfortunately, this tour guide was an elderly man, with a very dry and historic approach on the tour. Apart from the tour guide himself, the other 4 people in the tour were equally as dry and uninteresting. It was a long 2 hours, and I decided one tour was enough for me that day, and I would skip the historic tour I had planned for that afternoon and would arrive at the airport early. The tour wasn't a complete waste, as I learned that there were over 1000 water fountains in the city, some of which had the option to have wine flow through them vs water. Unfortunately I didn't find any wine fountains, but the thought of one made me happy.
As I walked to the train station back to the airport, I fulfilled the last thing on my weekend in Switzerland bucket list- eat some authentic Swiss Chocolate. I went to Chocolate World, and tried some different types of chocolate, as well as bought some as a treat for my coworkers and family back home. It really was the perfect ending to a wild weekend. When I got to the airport, I found out that duty free also had a huge sale on chocolate. Covid does have some perks, like there being a limited number of people flying currently and having their chocolate expire before it's sold. I filled my backpack with even more treats, and happily boarded my flight back home to Sweden.
Switzerland may have been my last European adventure planned for 2020, but I have 1 more trip planned before the end of the year. Any guess where it will be? :)