I visited Zurich and Bern from 18-21 July 2016. My overnight journey from Budapest to Zurich was finally coming to an end soon. As it struck 7am, there was more activity in the train as people disembarking or were getting ready to disembark. Kids were waking up their parents, some were changing into their daytime clothing or brushing their teeth. I, on the other hand was trying to catch up on sleep since I did not get a good night sleep in the hot, cramped train compartments.
As the sun rose, the majestic towering mountains and green valleys complimented with pristine blue rivers as well as quaint villages started to reveal itself. I had to choose between catching up sleep or admiring the view outside. The train felt so small when we passed through the high mountains.
At one of the stations, the immigration officers boarded the train to check our passports. The only people left in my compartment were 2 Australians from Newcastle on working holiday in the UK. One of them had a British passport though.
Once I arrived in Zurich, I had to look for a locker and exchange some money (€40 of which I got CHF36 due to commissions). I also needed to use the toilet which I realised during my eurotrip was some sort of a luxury. It was hard to find toilets let alone a free one anywhere. Same case in the Zurich central train station. I paid CHF 2 to enter which was the most expensive toilet I’ve ever paid in my life. ( The university is 20 minutes walk away and has free toilets if you can hold it in for that long ).
A few days ago, I bought a super saver ticket from Zurich to Bern for CHF20. You have to buy it early and for a specific train. It was around 11 am and my train to Bern was leaving in around 8 hours at 7.15pm. I had half a day to explore Zurich.
I pretty much walked around :
1. Bahnhofstrasse Shopping Street
I started with the shopping area along Bahnhofstrasse which was a straight long road with a tramline in the middle. It was very busy especially near to Coop, one of the Swiss supermarket chain. Full of tourists as well since it’s one of the cheapest place to find food ( cheap in Swiss terms because it was still expensive ). There were also shopping streets parallel to this road as well as the area surrounding the central station.
2. Zurich Old Town
The shopping high street leads to Paradeplatz which is a square with a station where you can switch tramlines. It is also where I started to explore Zurich’s old city. The buildings in the old city has beautiful architecture for example the Town Hall (Rathaus) built above the blue waters that flows to the lake.
Same goes with the churches where I went in to get respite from the summer heat outside. I also went up the tower at Grossmunster ( CHF 2 for students) . You can see the whole of the city centre and Lake Zurich. Apart from Grossmunster, there are lots of other churches you can check out such as Fraumunster which is located just across the bridge from it.
I spent some time chilling under the trees in the park located along Quaibrucke and overlooking Lake Zurich. I continued on my exploration and walked towards the University of Zurich. Some of the campus is perched on top of a hill. Access is either via a steep flight of stairs or by tram from the central station. The walk from the central station is less steeper. The campus was empty as it was summer holidays.
It was finally time for me to head back to the central station to catch my train to Bern. Before that, I met a friend, Celeste whom I met in Hanoi 2 years earlier at the end of 2014.
I stayed at Simon’s place, a new friend whom I met in a 27+ hour train ride from Mumbai to Agra ( longest train ride of my life so far! ). I joined him with his friends chilling at a bar in the town centre. After that, I took a bus to his place while he cycled home. He stayed near an aptly named bus stop called Wander. The apartment was on top of the building on the 4th floor with 2 bedrooms and a large living room/room that had a couch where I slept.
The next morning, he had to head for work so I mostly explored the city on my own and joined him after work. The first morning, I walked down towards the city but I turned left towards Eigerstrasse which then changed to Kirchenfeldstrasse. From this road, I was able to get a panoramic view of the city especially from the bridge that crosses the River Aare where you can see the parliament building. Along the river, you can also see people taking a dip in the rivers refreshing cool water. The currents are pretty strong though.
After the bridge, walking along Kirchenfeldstrasse, you will be in a leafy suburb ( in summer that is ) containing the diplomatic quarter of the city and home to numerous embassies of foreign countries. It was then that I found out that Bern was the capital of Switzerland.
I entered the city via the bridge along Marienstrasse close to the Museum of Contemporary Arts. Places went in Bern include :
1. Bern Old City/City Centre
The city centre is surrounded by the Aare River. Stroll along the city cobbled streets and take in the sights.
If you come at the right time, there is a free tour of the Swiss Parliament that lasts around an hour. We were told that the representatives were required to know each of the 4 official languages in Switzerland as they had the option of speaking in their own mother tongue.
The view outside from the Parliament is just beautiful. Similarly, standing at the viewing point located behind the building, you will be able to see across the river towards the mountains which might still be covered with some snow even in summer.
There are a few main shopping streets in the city containing supermarkets, branded merchandises and tourist shops. There’s also a shopping mall that’s connected to the main train station.
There are lots of water fountains usually with columns and carvings of city emblems on them where you can fill up your water bottles. Bern can get pretty hot in summer.
The Tour de France was passing through the city when I visited in mid July. You might also have the opportunity to see it if the timing was right. A lot of the city roads were closed and transport routes had to be changed for a few hours.
2. Enjoy the panoramic view of the city
I went to 2 vantage points. First was Rosengarten. Located on top of a hill overlooking the city from the eastern tip. It’s next to the city centre and a short hike up a hill. On top, there’s a small park and a cafe. If the price is too much for you ( just like it was for me ), you can just sit at the benches or on the grass. Before you go up or when you come down, you can visit a small bear pit, Bärengraben located just next to the river. Unfortunately, it was either sleeping or was not there when I visited.
The second vantage point is Gurten which is a bit out of the city. I took a bus from the city up to the bus station at the base of the hill. Then, I took the tram to go up. There’s a small amusement park catered mostly to toddlers/kids. In a fenced area near the tram station on top of the hill you can see some big hairy cows (don’t really know the name ).
There are a few hiking trails that you can use to explore the area or to go back down to the base of the hill. Since I didn’t have the time, I went to the observation tower instead. Can be quite unnerving if you are afraid of heights. The tower also shakes a bit when the wind is strong or there’s a lot of people on it.
3. Swimming in the Aare River
I joined Simon and his friends for a swim at 2 places. The first one was Freibad Lorraine and the second was Freibad Marzili. I must say that I preferred the second place more than the first one. It had a beautiful view of the city especially the Parliament building. There’s more of a summer vibe here although it get pretty crowded. It’s located closer to the city centre as well. They provide small lockers just enough to put small belongings such as wallets and phones.
As I said earlier, the Aare River currents are quite strong so make sure you are a strong swimmer (which I wasn’t) or bring a buoy with you. A lot of people swam with their waterproof bags where they put their stuff inside and functions as a buoy at the same time.
I mitigated the high cost of Switzerland by cooking at home every night. I and Simon shared expenses for the cooking ingredients. However, Simon insisted that I don’t need to pay for my share and it was his treat.Thanks very much! 😀
As for transport, if it was close, I would just walk. The 20 minutes transport ticket already costs CHF2.50. The second longest time ticket costs CHF4.40 for 1 hour (?)
For my trip to Gurten, I took a Bern day ticket which costs CHF12.40. It includes the tram to go up. If not, it would’ve been a separate charge. It’s definitely worth buying the day ticket if you wanted to go to Gurten.
I had an enjoyable time in these 2 cities and would like to thank my friend, Celeste for meeting up with me in Zurich and Simon for hosting, bringing me around the city and for the food in Bern. Hopefully I won’t be so poor when I visit them the second time around (sobs)..See ya again sometime!
After Switzerland, I headed north to Berlin, Germany.
Expenses ( in Swiss Francs, CHF )
Below are the expenses incurred although most of my food was paid for and I stayed at my friends place. I checked Hostelworld for a hostel in Zurich and it cost around €35 a night in a dorm room.
Just a day trip of a few hours.
Zurich Church Tower : 2 ( student ticket )
Locker at the train station : 6
Muffin : 2.50
Toilet at the main train station : 2 ( crazy! )
Zurich to Bern Sparticket ( bought from the website ) : 25
Baguette ( Tuna ) in Bern from Migros : 5.80
Other food : 10
Simon paid for dinner. Average dinner shopping would’ve cost me around CHF6-8 a night (CHF12-15 divided by 2 of us). Typical meal would be vegetables and half or whole chicken. He had all the seasonings as well.
Bus tickets – ( 20 minutes, 2.50 X 3) : 7.50
– ( 1 hour ticket) : 4.40
Bern Day Card : 12.40
Personal Expenses : 20
TOTAL : CHF 97.60
( Would’ve cost around CHF 200 – 230 if I had to pay for accommodation and dinner every night )
Additional pictures from my trip are on my fb page : wanderingfadz
You can also find me on instagram : wanderingfadz