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Switzerland

It’s summer now, and I’ve got a bad case of the travel bug. And it seems to have spread to a couple of my co-workers as well.

I’ve been taking for granted the fact that Germany is so centrally located in Europe, and that weekend trips are something that I should be doing more often. Is it too late to make my resolutions for the year?

It was going to be the hottest weekend of the year, a whopping 38°C (about 100°F – but it’s about time I try to get acquainted to the idea of Celsius). A week before, a series of mundane work hours led to an impulsive booking of a flight to Zurich. What better way to escape the summer scorch by running away to the mountains where there’s snow year-round? (Although ultimately we didn’t get to the snow because we couldn’t afford it. Surprise, surprise!)

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To be quite frank, I didn’t find Zurich to be so interesting. From what I saw, nothing really stood out or gave it a unique character – except maybe Altstadt (Old Town), the Limmat River, and the areas around it. Or maybe because the extortionate prices were a total enthusiasm buzzkill (7,20 CHF for an iced coffee?? No thanks!). But really, the best part of Zurich for us was the convenience of traveling to neighboring cities, with more things to do and see.

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Coming from a place like the French Riviera, it was difficult to imagine anything that could be more beautiful.

Well, then I came to Switzerland and saw the Swiss Alps.

What a humbling experience to be standing alongside these giant mountains, with summits that seem to reach up into the heavens. The snow-capped peaks make for a striking contrast against the blue summer skies. The deep valleys speckled with humble homes and communities. All those small, winding creeks running through the valleys. The clear lakes and remarkable waterfalls created by the melting of the glaciers of the Alps. All amongst rolling hills of untainted, lush green grass, roamed by healthy herds of cattle, sheep, and horses. And a stillness and quietness that transcends the body and fills you with waves of tranquil peace.

We spent just about the whole day in the mountains (not nearly enough) working our way slowly towards the top. It just gets better and better the higher you go up.

@ 567m/1,860ft (Interlaken-Ost)

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@ 607m/1,991ft (Spiez)

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I’ve had such great encounters with the Swiss people here–so much so that I felt like it contributed largely to why I had such an amazing experience here in Switzerland.

Before we even arrived into our final destination (Köniz), we had to make a stop in Geneva. At the Geneva station, we needed to find the ticket office to make sure we had the proper reservations to take our connecting train. As always with new places, we had to familiarize ourselves with our surroundings before figuring out where to go next. This woman, who was quite busy handling her less-than-cooperative toddler son, went out of her way to escort us. She said that the train station was actually going through some renovations at the moment, and that it could be quite tricky to navigate around the place. It’s the type of give your neighbor a hand concept that I haven’t experienced a lot so far throughout Europe.

When we arrived into the Bern station, we were once again getting acquainted with the ticketing system because we had to take another train to get to the place we were staying. This young man made a impressive attempt at waving me down for a good 30 seconds (I have a serious case of tunnel vision) before I realized he was talking to me–only to ask if I had any questions or needed any help with anything. I told him that I was fine, and he just said “Okay, that’s great!”, smiled brightly, and went off on his way.

We stopped by the ticketing office in Bern to reserve our seats for the train to Paris. Now, our experiences with the ticket office personnel all over Europe haven’t been the best. We’ve almost always been met with impatience, curt responses, and a lack of desire to help. This lady however, was just about the sweetest woman we’ve met so far. She greeted us with a warm, cheerful smile before proceeding to help book our train tickets. Because there aren’t very many seats on trains to Paris for Eurail pass holders, she went through every possible transfer option and every possible time to find us the best option. Not only that, but she thoroughly explained which platforms to get on, which transfer stations to get off at, and alternative options in case the trains are late. They never do that anywhere else.

We went on to book our tickets into the mountains. We originally wanted to go to Kleine Scheidegg, but weren’t sure about if we dressed warm enough to go there. She took it upon herself to look up the weather for us, ask her co-workers about what they recommend in each area, and explained all the different places that she thinks would be great for us to visit as well as tips to cut corners and save some money. Everything she did was really beyond her job requirement, but she just did it because it was the nice thing to do. Ah, Swiss people.

The neighborhood we were staying at was a pretty residential area, far up in the hills. It’s not too bad of a hike from the train station though. It’s really quiet and peaceful out there, right alongside the mountains. People have large gardens and some even raise cattle, horses, and goats. We were walking along one of the streets, looking for our house, until we here a small woman chirp “Hello!” from down the road. We see her waving excitedly from her front porch, and had probably waited outside right when she figured our train had arrived.

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Astrid was our brightest, and most hospitable, host we’ve had so far. She showed us around the house, before settling down and pulling out a few maps and guidebooks to explain everything she knows about Switzerland and where to visit. She openly offered for us to use and eat anything in the pantry. We had a lovely chat out on the balcony before she left us to unpack and settle in. We helped ourselves to some ramen, because something about having a bowl of hot noodle soup up the in the mountains seemed appropriate.

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