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Switzerland 2006

Readers of our travel journals will realise that for at least one of the family, Switzerland is the favourite place to visit.

Yes Peter has been smitten by the place ever since our Great Rail Journey to Austria and Switzerland.

It is hard to describe exactly what it is about this country that sets it apart. Maybe it's the friendly people, maybe its the cleanliness, maybe it's the scenery, maybe its the peace and tranquility and maybe when all of these are put together the sum of the parts makes a very impressive total.

For our latest visit we made Interlaken our base. It's not our favourite Swiss city but it is very central and makes virtually everywhere in the country accessible and it is very close to the wonderful town of Thun.

Monday May 30th

Why do all holidays abroad seem to start at some unearthly hour that has you waking up regularly throughout the night feeling paranoid about oversleeping? Having stayed with son number one in Eastbourne, we had the delightful experience of getting him up for a 5.30 start, which meant we were at Gatwick by 6.20 a.m.

The flight to Geneva only took just over an hour. Switzerland is so effortless - straight through customs, down to the train station and onto one of their hyper classy trains. And the railways are so good that we decided to take a rather strange route to our destination. In Switzerland the getting there is all part of the holiday.

So we changed at Montreaux and hopped on the panoramic  express. Now here the word express shouldn't be taken literally. It was a two hour journey of the highest calibre, taking in some breath-taking scenery. At Zweisimmen we changed for Interlaken.

Our Swiss chalet (what else) turned out to be just five minutes walk from the West Station. And our room. Well you don't expect a huge amount for 50 a night, but in typical Swiss style it was small but clean.

Interlaken is a strange kind of place. I have never really come to terms with it completely. It's rather rambling and spread out by Swiss standards. We seem to have passed though it so many times without ever having a good look round. It can't seem to decide whether it wants to be chic or downmarket. There are bits of both and it's slightly annoying in a quite un-annoying way.

Certainly the same can't be said about Thun (pictured above) which is a delightful town and a mere train hop away. Thun really is Switzerland personified - very historic and very attractive in a strangely fragile way. Sadly on our arrival it started raining and we hurried to an Italian restaurant which was virtually empty, but then again it was a Monday night.

Everybody in the restaurant seemed to want to shake hands and speak to us. There were shades of Egypt, however, when a passing woman tried to sell us some trinket type rubbish. When we said "no" she left, however. In the railway station a woman jabbered on to us in German. I'm beginning to wonder whether we are the unwitting stars in a virtual reality television show entitled "Big Bother" (a play on words on Big Brother).

Tuesday May 31st

The strange thing about our visits to Switzerland is that they have all been in late spring or summer - which means the snow count is much lower. Must make a mental note to return in winter one year. Today was a warm and pleasant day.

Caught another train - this time the 8.30 a.m from Interlaken to Basel which now apparently is equally at home being called Basil (as in Fawlty) or Barle (as in - well Barle). It took us a while to find the city centre and the old town (not really a contradiction in terms there). But on the way we found a church serving morning coffee and not the instant chuck it down your throat stuff either. This was real coffee - a tad expensive but worth it.

I wrote in my diary that Basel is not as nice as Zurich but then what exactly does the word "nice" actually mean. I had a junior school teacher many many years ago who banned the word nice on the grounds that it wasn't nice to use it. I tend now to agree with him. And the comment is probably unfair on poor old Basel as Zurich is my favourite city in the whole wide world (I know it's rather a parochial choice but I can't help that).

So Basel basically is beautiful, but not quite as beautiful as Zurich. I can't illustrate my comments as the card I filled with photographs of Basel had a fault. Lunch was a supermarket salad eaten on a terrace overlooking the river and a spot obviously frequented every day by local people.

We didn't really buy anything as  one of the only downsides about Switzerland is the high cost of everything. We had afternoon coffee at MacDonalds which illustrates what I mean.

Visited the Cathedral and the delightfully colourful town hall. Returned to Interlaken on the 3 p.m train. Travelling is a joy with so much to do (sleep, read, admire the scenery, sleep, read). It was interesting that whilst in Basel we were asked directions on a number of occasions. We must already look like locals.

Once back we got the grumbly train up to Grindlewald. This train features large in previous holidays. It's a made up name given to the rather old rickety vehicles that haul you up the mountain to wonderful Grindlewald. Only problem was the old ones seem to have been replaced by new trains (this one being a colourful green and yellow). They go just as slow but I will probably have to think up a new name for them.

We had a wander round, gave up the idea of eating as few of the restaurants seemed to be open and so returned to our chalet to get changed before finding a very pleasant local restaurant only about 200 yards away. The food was average, the price was high but there was plenty of character.

Wednesday June 1st

Very sunny today - not the kind of thing you associate with Switzerland. Got chatting to a father and daughter at breakfast. Salt of the earth - the kind of people that give you a potted history of their entire life in 10 minutes flat.

We decided to go into the mountains today which meant the grumbly train (I really can't call them anything else) to Lauterbrunnen and then by degrees of a perpendicular ride and another grumbly train to the picturesque traffic free village of Murren from where the cable car disappeared into the clouds to reach the top of the Schilthorn.

Sadly the views were Obscured by Clouds (always knew I would get a Pink Floyd album title into a holiday travelogue at some time). So we retired to the revolving restaurant made famous in a James Bond movie. I can never remember which one. I admire people who can remember songs, plots, characters etc from all the James Bond movies. Me - well I couldn't care less. James Bond has never been my kind of entertainment so please don't e-mail me with the name of the film as "frankly my dear I don't give a damn" (Pink Floyd and Gone with the Wind all in one article).

The restaurant was strange. It moved in such a way that the kitchen ended up facing different people throughout the revolution, which means the waiters may have taken an order for table 12 only to come out from the kitchen facing table 27 and not having a clue where table 12 has gone. Actually they did as they had obviously perfected the skill of finding tables over years of spinning round without going dizzy (not to mention dropping plates).

Lunch was ghoulash soup (obviously a ghostly stew). The menu included James Bond Spaghetti and the all day James Bond breakfast - some of the most shameful cashing in since eating Mozart chocolates in Salzburg.

The food was okay but later in the day we both got James Bond gut ache!!. The cable car return ride saw us subjected to that grave state of affairs known as "elderly Americans on vacation-itis."

On virtually any trip in Europe you are bound to be subjected to this phenomena. Once different groups have established that they are from the States they try to find out exactly where and they do it in a very loud and American way.

One man, who looked to be in his 80s, became the self appointed establisher of geographical awareness and announced "hey guys we have Mississippi and South Carolina on board".

I felt like whispering "actually we're from England" but refrained as I had used this once before to a New York cop and been immediately asked if I knew the Wilson family from Rother-ham (New York accent needed on that place name). As we have also been asked whether we know Tony Blair and John Lennon, we decided to keep quiet. There were only one other couple who didn't take part in the whooping and hollering on the descent and they turned out to come from England as well, although I didn't ask them whereabouts as I didn't want to get involved in the "Hi Y'all we have Norfolk and Yorkshire on board" concept.


Once back at Murren we decided to walk part of the way back to Lauterbrunnen. The first part of the walk took about an hour and led to a cafe for welcome coffee and ice cream and then we got the rack and pinion back to Lauterbrunnen. Spent about 20 minutes there and then returned to Interlaken.

Then it was on to Thun again to board the lake steamer to Interlaken. I think that must be an English concept of getting a train and steamer for a total of two and a half hours to get back to exactly where you started from! We found a different restaurant for an evening meal which seemed to consist primarily of salad and chips. One thing the Swiss are quite rightly not famous for is their cuisine.

Thursday June 2nd

The thing about Switzerland is you can change your mind at the last minute and still have plenty of time. Today we couldn't figure out what to do before returning to the UK and changed options a number of times before opting for a day in Thun.

We left our luggage at the station and walked along the road to a pleasant park. It included a panoramic painting of the town put together in the 19th century which was very interesting.  

Then walked back and took the steamer to go to Hunback which is the first stop on the way back to Interlaken. Then had a pleasant half hour walk back to Thun passing some delightful properties (as in the picture below). Had a salad and drink at the department store before sitting by the lake and reading (Peyton Place!!!).

We caught the 3.02 p.m train to Bern. I state the exact time because Swiss Rail works like clockwork. When they say 3.02 p.m they mean 3.02 p.m not 3.01 p.m or 3.03 p.m. No other country would be as exact. Except this was the day that ironically disproved that rule. The journey to Bern took just 20 minutes but then we awaited the train for Geneva and it didn't come. It was 14 minutes late arriving. Now in Switzerland this is a big thing. In the UK it would be looked upon as pretty much on time.

We still had plenty of time at the airport. No problem on the return flight and didn't have too long to wait before son no 2 picked us up to return us to Norfolk. I call this time in our lives payback time. Both boys can now drive and have their own cars - so they can be our taxi service after many years of it being the other way round.





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