Cream, cheese and chocolate
Switzerland has been a wet week, but has slowly grown on us over time. We started the week driving over a big mountain pass from Austria. It was a beautiful drive, lots of windy corners, spectacular mountains and valleys. The only downside is that there was a local cycle race going on at the same time, and the roads at times were very narrow. We arrived in a place called Zug (after nearly killing a few dozen cyclists), on the side of a small lake to camp the night.
The first thing we noticed about Switzerland was that everything is so expensive compared to the rest of Europe! The campground we stayed in cost us 48 Swiss Francs (about 60 NZD) per night, way over the cost of Austrian accommodation. Beer is much more expensive here, and so are groceries, especially meat and vegetables. On arriving in Zug we were met with some pretty wet weather, so we hunkered down at the camp and got all the boring domestic stuff like about 3 loads of washing sorted. The following day was also pouring with rain, but we ventured over to Cham, a town about 3km away from Zug for a look around and also had a look around the pretty village of Zug. Like the towns in Austria, Swiss towns seem to be well kept and really flash. Lots of the country reminds us of Queenstown, very resort-y and prices to match!
We’ve covered about 15000 miles so far on our journey, and we figured the Sundancer was in need of a bit of TLC so with some help from the camp owners, we managed to find a garage that would service the van for us (harder than we thought it would be, lots of garages couldn’t physically fit the van inside to have a look at it). We had an early start to drop the vehicle off in a small town called Sins, and took the train to Lucerne for the day.
Switzerland has an amazing network of trains, and they are all really new and fancy, but again seem to cost a lot more than they did in other countries we have been to.
We thought Lucerne was a really pretty town, right on the shores of a beautiful alpine lake. We spent the day wandering the streets in the old part of town, had a picnic lunch on the lakefront and a beer at a local brewery. The rain which seemed to be plaguing our visit to Switzerland so far managed to stay away too which was great!
The van did need a bit of love, namely 4 new tyres and some thing that goes on the front axle needed replacing. The guy quoted us around $1500 NZD for all of this work, but it actually came in under quote, so we were happy enough with that. To treat the van, we also bought a vignette in Switzerland, which is a sticker that you put on the windscreen and lets you go on all of the toll roads. Most of the country is mountainous, and we figured it would be pretty slow going if we didn’t take the motorways. The only downside of this is that to avoid all of the mountains you end up going through massive tunnels, and miss out on the beautiful views.
After we picked up the van again, we headed south to Interlaken for a look around. We had heard that this was a really beautiful town, and although it was pretty rainy there too it didn’t disappoint. We stayed in a freedom camp just out of town, and the next day had a look around town then headed for the Jungfrau region, famous for its beauty. We got there too late to catch a train up into the mountains, but had a really nice (but rainy) walk around the village of Gimmelwald then camped there the night.
We were pretty keen to do a big hike in the Swiss Alps, and on Friday the weather finally pulled through for us. We did some googling, and found a good loop to walk in the Lautermann valley, apparently one of the largest glacial valleys in the world, famous for having over 72 waterfalls. It was a gorgeous setting for a walk, high snow-topped peaks, steep valleys and LOTS of waterfalls – all that rain was good for something!
The guide we read said you could choose to take the steep rail or cable car to the top of the mountain then walk along the top, or take the path. We decided that we would take on the path….a climb of over 1000m, which took us nearly 2 hours! It was really steep, but beautiful. We were not impressed with the people looking down on us as they coasted up the hill in the cable cars as we battled on. The climb took us through forest and farmland, to a soundtrack of cow bells. Across the valley, we could see snow and glaciers, and of course the beautiful falls. We wandered along the top of the hill through an alpine car-free village called Murren, and then back down the hill to the valley floor before catching a bus back to the carpark. It was an exhausting but unforgettable day.
The following day, we awoke stiff and sore, and drove south to a small town called Gruyeres, which is famous for its Gruyere cheese, fondue and meringues served with gruyere double cream. We stopped at the cheese factory and did a tour which showed us the traditional cheesemaking process, and of course gave us some tastings, then wandered in the rain around the beautiful village and around the countryside for a couple of hours. They advertised a “cheese walk” up to another village which also still made the cheese in the traditional way, so attacked that the following morning. Our tired muscles didn’t really love us pushing them through another 500m ascent (4 hour walk), but the cheese and the views were pretty good at the top, and on the way back down we came across heaps of wild raspberries which were a nice reward for our slog.
When we arrived at the campervan, disaster struck. “We” had left the lights on in the van, and the battery was completely gone. We were parked in a packed carpark, with no easy way to jumpstart the van, and no tools to change the back battery in the van for the engine battery. The local garage was shut, and the people in the cheese factory didn’t have tools that they would lend us. Andrew’s stress levels were through the roof! After about an hour of trying different things as tools, and several impressive sparks from the inside battery, a lovely French couple came to our rescue and jumpstarted the van for us, so we kept on trucking south towards Geneva.
Sunday we went into Geneva town for a look around. It is again post-card worthy, on the edge of the lake (seems to be a winning recipe for a good Swiss town), and with majestic mountains nearby. The country must be absolutely gorgeous in the winter, when all of those cable cars take skiiers up into the snow, and the place is blanketed in white. Geneva was most impressive for its “Jet d’eau” – a massive fountain in the middle of the lake spurting a massive spout of water into the air, nice old buildings, and the market where we had a delicious lunch of rotisserie chicken, falafel and ratatouille.
Switzerland has been an interesting country to visit. We have been a bit let down by the weather, but it has had some absolutely spectacular moments. Lots of the really touristy things like the cable cars, train trips up into the mountains, and boat rides, mean it would have been even more amazing if we had more money, but even on a budget we were able to enjoy the mountains and soak up the best parts. We would love to come back in the winter just to see how spectacular the place is covered in snow.