Travel Guides & Travel Tips

Travel Guides

Some of our destination points involved making connections and reconnections with colleagues and friends. Others came from reading a variety of travel guides on Switzerland. For our purposes, two resources became our primary guides for trip planning:

  1. The Facebook closed group: "Switzerland Travel Planning Group" run by Carolyn, who also host the Holidays to Switzerland Travel Podcast and Holidays to Switzerland website. Carolyn had fabulous regular posts with extremely helpful information about all kinds of travel issues. I used her spreadsheet to calculate savings by purchasing various types of Swiss Travel Cards. For a 28-day trip, the month-long Swiss Half-Fare Card was the best choice for us. For example: We spent a total of $1370 on all trains, buses, gondolas, and excursions. We saved $843 over the full ticket prices.
    We also obtained invaluable information from posts of other travelers in the group.
    Check out Carolyn's podcast site for Episode 37 "Traveling Switzerland at a slower pace." It is an interview with Cathy and me :)
  2. The book: "Greater Than a Tourist -- Bernese Oberland Switzerland: 50 Travel Tips from a Local" by Natacha Müller, who grew up on Lake Thun near Interlaken. Since most of our trip focused on the Bernese Oberland, this was a perfect resource, well written and organized, and absolutely fun to read! Amazon Link here.

A Few Travel Tips

  1. Prices (especially for food). Be aware that Switzerland is "expensive." Check out restaurant menus and prices online in advance. Know that you can buy food in grocery stores like Coop and Migros at reasonable prices. Plan your food budget around real prices, not those you are used to paying in other places. There should be no "sticker shock" when you actually start traveling in Switzerland. In each place you will find a range of restaurant prices. We often loved sharing a pizza :)
  2. Do your own thing! Listen to yourself about what things you should include in your itinerary. You will read amazing stories about things one "must do." But, if those things do not resonate with you, move on to other things that do. Of course, it's always nice to experience new things. Just make sure the trip you plan is the one you want, not the one someone else wants. You won't be able to "do it all" anyway.
  3. How is your health? Assess your own abilities and health conditions before planning excursions that are likely to be too strenuous. Several hikes that were labelled "easy" in guide books turned out to be not so easy for me and Cathy. We are generally fit, however:
    • Cathy has had M.S. for over 20 years. She is fortunately now quite stable, but has moments of fatigue and instability. We make sure she has a walking stick, or can hold my hand. (On our hike to the Bachalpsee from Grindelwald First, Cathy was holding my hand and using a walking stick in the other. She still fell and bruised her hip. Fortunately she was not seriously injured.)
    • I was diagnosed near the end of 2020 with prostate cancer. I had radiation treatment in Feb-Mar of 2021 and will continue with hormone therapy until Autumn of 2023. Effects of treatment are fatigue and reduced muscle mass, among other things. Together we are a great team, with full understanding of each other's daily condition, and how that might change from one hour to the next.
    • By the way, Cathy's neurologist is proud of the way Cathy keeps exercising. My oncologist concurred with me that this trip would be therapeutic for my recovery from cancer treatment; we were both correct in that assessment :)
    • Being forced to take a slower pace than we are accustomed had one major advantage. We "took in" our surroundings more intimately and with far more enjoyment than if we had been focused more on reaching a desination in a shorter period of time.
  4. Quality over Quantity. For many people, a trip to Switzerland is a once-in-a-lifetime event. They will naturally want to maximize the number of places and excurions to experience. That all makes sense. But a trip that is always rushed can be less enjoyable.
  5. Weather. Switzerland's weather is often unpredictable. Be prepared for just about anything. We chose to spend several days at each location to maximize our chances of having at least one clear day especially for mountain excursions. That turned out to be a really good decision for us. We checked our weather app several times a day. In our experience, forecasts for almost every day of our trip called for periods of rain in the morning and a chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon. That almost never happened - on only 3 of our 28 days did we have light rain, but never a thunderstorm. Maybe we just got lucky! If we had travelled a month earlier, we would have had downpours with flooding almost every day. Everyone wants to have the perfect weather and perfect sky for every outing. That is not realistic, so try not to be disappointed if the weather doesn't play along according to your rules :)
  6. Rent a car? This is strictly a personal preference, as well as one that partly depends on where you wish to go. For our trip we chose not to rent a car. We used the SBB app to purchase almost all of our train, bus, gondola and excursion trips. Train and bus connections were almost always fine, and if we missed a connection, it was a relatively short wait for the next train or bus. Only one time (in rural Emmental on a Sunday) did we have to wait over an hour. There was one stay where it was inconvenient not to have a car. That was a B&B up a steep road from the nearest bus station. Our host graciously picked us up from the bus station and took us back, as well as gave us a ride to an event we could otherwise not have attended. However, if the weather had been worse (hotter or wetter), we would have felt "stuck," even though it was a lovely location. Otherwise we chose places to stay that were within relatively easy walking distance from the nearest train/bus station.

If you do rent a car, be prepared to receive a ticket for a parking or traffic infraction. You will be notified by you car rental company that a fine is coming, and the rental company will also probably charge you an administrative fee. It may be a month or more before you receive your ticket, and you will probably not know how much the fine is until you receive it.

 

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Gary & Cathy Martin