travel

Chocolates, Cheese and Cities in Switzerland

First stop on the sabbatical: Switzerland

Have you ever heard of a trip to Switzerland without visiting the Alps?

Well, welcome to one!

Europe to me has always meant history and art ensconced deceptively in either a sleepy old village or a glitzy world city, and the towering Alps that cuts across eight countries. I’ve bought layman art history books and beautiful coffee table books that have reinforced this. Which is why I surprised myself when I barely planned these six days in Switzerland and wiped off the Alps from my itinerary simply because B hasn’t been there yet. Well, that’s a good comfort zone shift to start with, one of the goals of this sabbatical.

Chocolate

Maison Callier at Broc

Oh sweet God! Erm, literally. There’s nothing, I repeat, nothing like Swiss chocolate. Belgian is great, but different. I admit I’m utterly spoilt for good chocolate after binging on the Swiss ones. It’s an expensive and difficult-to-source bar that I have just raised in my life. Callier was the first chap to add real milk to the dark and bitter brew that the Europeans brought back from South America. Till date, Callier adds real milk, and it is the only milk chocolate I drool over in my dark chocolate world. A visit here was a pilgrimage, and the free sampling was a feast. I wanted to kneel in gratitude but I was floating on a sugar high. 

Cheese

La Maison du Gruyere at Gruyere  

Never a cheese fan all my life, I had a newfound interest in this culinary item thanks to B’s keto diet. I learnt to use it and appreciate its smelliness to a certain extent. And then, just like that, I was in the capital of cheese-land! Gruyere’s old town was choc-a-bloc with cheesy restaurants, but once we skirted around to the chateaux grounds, the rolling green landscape opened up to frame trademark Switzerland views. Calm goats, quiet cows and verdant green. My eyes and heart couldn’t get enough of it all, both here and on our numerous train and bus rides. Skipping the factory, we headed straight to a small cheesy snack which was probably the best thing to do there after ogling at the landscape. 

Cities

Geneva, Montreux, Lausanne, Bern, Lucerne, Zurich

Geneva is 40% expats, and the other cities are tourist havens. Which means I was mostly wandering around amidst foreigners except when I was trying out my French and German at the stores. Midway through the trip, Bonsoir seamlessly turned into Gruezi, Merci gave way without a fight to Danke and I was looking for a Bahnhof instead of a Gare. It’s the most confused I’ve been in a while.

Old Towns

While I thought “old towns” were, well, old, these cities lay before me a veritable variety. 

Geneva, restored but still has local merchants
Lausanne, glitzy and modern, only the hilly roads give it a certain charm
Bern, by far my favourite! A uniquely preserved ode to green sandstone.
Lucerne, discovering wall murals was a delight!
Zurich’s Neiderdorf, delightful nightlife and posh local merchants. A mix of old and new that I found intriguing.

Cathedrals

Cathedral, thy name is Europe! Never, ever fails to disappoint me.

Geneva, St Pierre Cathedral
Lausanne, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland’s biggest
Bern, Bern Munster
Lucerne, Jesuit Church
Zurich, Frau Munster

Lakes

A city needs of have some water, yeah? Lakes abound in this pretty little country and promenades were my best friends. I skipped cruises to just walk randomly and here are the results.

Lake Geneva, from the Geneva side
Lake Geneva, sunset from Montreux
River Aare, Bern
Lake Lucerne, Lucerne
Lake Zurich, Zurich

Other Sights

Geneva – United Nations, Broken Chair – Built to create awareness about mine victims
Bern – Bern’s Fountains
Bern, Gurten Hill – A city hill with fabulous views. I went twice 🙂
Luzerne – Chapel Bridge – Pretty as a picture
Zurich – Lidenhof Hill

Special mention: Geneva – CERN

Do you remember learning about protons, electrons and neutrons as a kid? Did you also know that they can be further split into tinier particles? I did not! Why did they not teach us this in school?! I would think we process this better as children, because wrapping my head around this now seems impossible. It seems like magic. Scientists name a zillion particles and keep finding new ones in the world’s largest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, a 27km ring that sits underground at CERN in Geneva. They last for sheer microseconds and cement their place in science. And I’m supposed to process all that?! What is this but a layman’s faith in science?! A blind faith with no understanding at all?! And where have I heard this one before? Oh yeah, religion. I absolutely loved CERN’s two free museums. I gave up the LHC tour to head to Lausanne for the cathedral (yeah I see the irony in this too), but even these two little museums filled my heart with awe, wonder and joy.

LHC model at CERN!

Adopting an anthem of “eat and walk and gawk”, I traded in factory visits for cheese and chocolate tastings, and museums for a walk in the old towns. And I’m mighty glad I did. Switzerland is definitely about the outdoors.

Both B and I have never seen the Alps, and that’s the way it will stay till we find out when we can.

An attempt at conscious travel

While the first three days in Geneva were plastic free thanks to @mitokondrion, I ended up living on supermarket food for the rest of the trip.

Book read on the trip: Rick Steves “Switzerland” guide. But before the trip, “Swiss Watching” by Diccon Bewes was a  wonderful, light read that explained everything from the Alps to the cantons, just enough for a fun outdoorsy trip.

Trip inspiration, kind host in Geneva, salad chef sans comparer, enthusiastic partner-in-crime through the chocolate and cheese, source of a few photos without asking her, and role model sister-in-law: @mitokondrion

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