Switzerland: Rhine Falls, Lucerne & Zurich, April 2017

After leaving Frankfurt in the early hours last Saturday, we arrived in Switzerland that morning. First a quick stop at Rhine Falls, then continuing on to Lucerne & Zurich. Although not technically a member of the European Union, Switzerland is still within the Schengen free movement zone. So we still had a short stop at the border, but there was no need to show our passports.

Rhine Falls

Apparently the largest plain waterfalls in Europe, this natural wonder formed 17,000 years ago and now attracts tourists worldwide. Over 150m wide and 23m high, on average 700,000 litres of water flow over the rocks every second.  It’s even possible to take a boat ride to the centre and make the walk to the top.

View from bridge at Rhine Falls

Next, it was a short journey through the Alps to Lucerne. On this trip we were lucky as the sun shone all day, meaning we could always see the mountains in the background. Although we again had limited time, I managed to see all the recommended sights such as the Lion Monument (today the symbol of the city) and everything else covered on the Old Town Stroll (through the ‘Altstadt’):

Alp overlooking Lucerne

View from Chapel Bridge & Water Tower (‘Wasserturm’)
Fritschi Fountain – the most famous of about 225 fountains in central Lucerne

After another short journey, we had the rest of the day in Zurich. Again plenty to see – and bigger than Lucerne so lots of tourists and walking. As normal, I headed towards the sights after we got off the bus by the quay. As advised, we followed the coast in the direction of Bellevue Platz  and the central station (‘Hauptbahnhof’), where many of the main sights could be found. Here we got a quick look at the Opera House (one of the smallest in the world), Grossmünster church and Fraümunster Benedictine Abbey.

Opernhaus Zürich – only has about 1,100 seats, but holds 250 performances every year
Fraumünster (in Münsterhof, the town square)
Grossmünster Protestant church – the two towers are Zurich’s landmark

After a quick break, I then headed up to Lindenhof which gave a great overview of the city – covering the Old Town, churches, City Hall (‘Rathaus’), the Limmat River, the university and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. This too dates way back to Roman times, and because of the history and status as a place of protection in different attacks, it is now a symbol of peace and tranquility. Incidentally, it is now a meeting point for passionate chess players (I personally haven’t played in a long time, but probably spent longer than I should watching how games went).

Alley leading up to Lindenhof.
Zürich overview from Lindenhof
Lindenhof fountain
Full-size chess…not sure what I’d do from here either

Then because it was nearby, we had a quick look at the Giacometti Hall (the entrance hall to the city police HQ), an architectural building known as “the hall of tiny flowers” due to its artwork. Lastly we walked further down to the Chinese Garden on the other side of the Zürichsee. Again here it was ideal for a break – not only was it getting late and people were tiring from the coach journey, it was dry and there was plenty of space. And because there was still sun and people even had barbecues etc. it really felt that summer was on the way.

Open area between Chinagarten Zürich and the coast

Just before catching the bus I sampled a ‘Raclette’ (melting cheese with potatoes and pickled food). After a bit of difficulty getting round the Swiss German, I managed to order this favourite recommended by our guides.

Raclette Heidi, from Raclette Factory, Zurich

Tools & Tips

It’s true Switzerland is fairly expensive – though because I was only there for a day trip, £25/€30 was enough . They do have their own currency there, the Swiss Franc (CHF), which is generally just under a Euro. Many places do still accept Euros – but sometimes notes (bills) only.

Trips made in groups are always fun, and you very often meet others also trying to make the most of their time abroad. So yes, a very international crowd – there were several Americans and Indians on this trip. And really, opportunities are never far away nowadays: though it’s pretty easy to find them on social media, here are a few organisations for starters (these have helped me make trips in ten different countries now). All mainly operate in English too:

pm2am Student Trips – Despite the name, you don’t actually need to be a student to join them. Operating all round the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, I’ve always found them professional, giving out guides and postcards every trip, so ideal if you really want to do some touristing.

Studifahrten – Like pm2am, though I found they cater a bit more to the partying/nightlife-type crowd. But again, day trips can be sub-50 and weekends from 100, all over Europe.

Eurotrip Adventures – Also operating all over Germany with several trips for 18-39s each month, and again geared towards the fun side.

Euro Adventures – American-owned, student-friendly prices, huge catalogue.

Studenten-Uniflucht – Dortmund-based organisation for students, by students – only founded in 2013  but basically have something on every weekend too.

Random Takeaways

I found the Swiss German (Schweizerdeutsch/Schwiizerdütsch) a kind of more formal German, for example ‘Thank you’ = ‘Merci’ like French and ‘Goodbye’ = ‘Adieu’ like French, Dutch or Swedish.

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