Having the opportunity to travel to Switzerland was due in large part to my very good friend Johanna. It’s not the type of place you could afford on a student budget… or even on any average budget quite honestly. But when Johanna left Copenhagen at the end of May and said “You are always welcome in Zürich”, my friend Lauren and I could not pass up the invite. So, Lauren and I, two Canadians, booked a three day weekend trip to visit Johanna. Day one was spent in Zürich, day two in Bern and day three in the mountains. How perfect does that sound?
Johanna hosted us at her place in Zürich and her Dad was kind enough to allow us to stay at his apartment in Bern. In terms of transportation, we took a lot of trains! We flew into Basel airport, took the train to Zürich, Bern, into the mountains, a gondola up and down the mountain, and a train back to Bern and Zürich and finally, a train from Zürich to Basel! Each train ride was about one hour, and we ate delicious Swiss chocolate and pastries along the way.
As train prices were quite expensive in typical Swiss fashion, we all figured the best option was for Lauren and I to purchase a student transport card that provides half price public transport expenses for one whole year. Even though we were only in the country for three days, we still have valid Swiss public transport passes!
It was a hot Friday at the beginning of June when we arrived in Zürich. It was a perfect day for a swim, so we headed to the river. Everyone was lying by the Limmat river at Oberer Letten swimming area on the river side, some occasionally jumping in for a few seconds. Facial expressions of those swimming made the water feel cold before we even touched it. When the three of us jumped in, Johanna – being an experienced river swimmer, seemed quite comfortable. Lauren and I on the other hand… were frozen in three seconds. I think that’s one of the coldest bodies of water I have ever swam in; but definitely super fresh and pristine. We sat back and tanned, then decided to jump in one more time before drying off and heading out to walk around the city.
While in Zürich, we did a relaxed and unique walking tour of the downtown area. We also walked through Frau Gerolds Garten; a super cute garden area which is home to a classy bar and grill. We also walked up FREITAG tower and had a nice view of Zürich’s newer city. The tower is made of stacked shipping containers, and home to FREITAG store known for making bags and wallets out of repurposed truck tarp. They have many funky colours and styles, plus the brand is proudly Swiss.
Definitely the most historical area with European-feel would be the old town area located in downtown Zürich. From Lindenhof Hill, a historical centre, there is an excellent view of the old city across the river. The Grossmünster 12th century cathedral and Fraumünster 11th century church stands out quite nicely in the view.
We finished off our day in Zürich with cheese fondue! Although I’ve never had fondue, I must say it was delicious. Apparently it’s a dish typically served in cooler weather… so having this on a hot June day was a bit untraditional. Nevertheless, Johanna’s Dad had us over for this cheesy meal!
To make the fondue, cheese is melted in a pot along with garlic and white wine. Bread is then cut into cubes and is put onto pronged metal sticks. Last but certainly not least, the bread is dipped in into the warm bowl of cheese fondue. The challenge: make sure you don’t drop your piece of bread in the communal cheese fondue bowl. The joke is you have to run around the room naked, if you do. Dessert was a nice espresso flavoured Swiss Mövenpick ice cream ! Yummy!
We took an early morning train to Bern and arrived on a beautiful hot and sunny Saturday. After dropping off our bags, we walked around the city centre. The city is built around the section of the river Aare which is a beautiful light turquoise-blue colour. I’ve never seen anything like it. The view of the city and river towards the back of the buildings are beautiful. You can even see the mountains in the horizon.
Bern’s old town city centre is listed as a UNESCO heritage site. The sandstone styled buildings with hanging Swiss flags, cobblestone streets, occasional peak-through view of the river and distant greenery definitely give you the perfect Switzerland postcard photo and feeling.
While walking around the old city, there are several landmark sites to spot, such as Zytglogge clock tower – built in the 13th century, Bern’s Cathedral, and The Parliament Building. Funny enough, there is a bear park in Bern! You can spot brown bears roaming around at the Bear pit along the River Aare.
Speaking of bears, we stopped at a café for a Berner Mandelbärli. These almond bear shaped cakes are a signature snack in Bern. Couldn’t help but try the chocolate chip one!
Another sweet spot we hit in the midday sun was a famous ice cream shop, called “Gelateria Di Berna”. The line was out the door, but it went quickly and was totally worth it! I would recommend a chocolate and peanut butter combination.
The highlight of this place in all photos is definitely the River Aare. Johanna, Lauren and I headed down by the river… and the plan was for us to jump in. This river’s current was significantly faster than the one in Zürich, and it also had railing and stairs several feet apart along the river side to exit. There were several people who floated by with facing wincing at how cold the water was. I must admit, I was a bit scared to jump in, so Lauren and Johanna went ahead. They jumped in twice, made it out alright and enjoyed it! I knew I couldn’t leave without doing it at least once… and after waiting awhile I finally got in. Yes, it was absolutely freezing and the current was quite quick. But I did manage to catch the railing and get out. I even went in a second time… and I’m glad I did it!
After already seeing and doing so much during our day in Bern, we spent the late afternoon having an apertif at “Sattler”.
I couldn’t leave Switzerland without seeing a mountain range up close. We took an early morning train on Sunday to the base of Stockhorn mountain and took a gondola lift up to the top. I couldn’t remember the last time I rode in a gondala- I loved it. The views were incredible. And once we got to the top, the view just blew my mind. Being amongst mountains is an incredible feeling. You feel so small in comparison to mother nature.
Stockhorn mountain is part of the Bernese Alps, looks over Lake Thun. It’s highest point is 2195m!
On the way down, we stopped at Chrindi lift station. It looks over Lake Hinterstockensee. The mountain reflections in this lake were breathtaking. There’s also a perfect picnic shelter nearby. It was a great lunch spot!
Spending time with friends, learning about Swiss culture and food, enjoying mother nature, made this trip one of my absolute favourites!!