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Add me to the list! Hooked on Switzerland. Trip report: Zürich, Mürren, Lugano, Luzern- September 2004

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I want to start off by thanking everyone for all the GREAT advice on rails passes, itinerary suggestions, hotel recommendations, hiking ideas, etc. I spent a lot of time before the trip reading these boards and doing other internet research and it really helped to make our trip great.

Trip photos are posted on several websites. Our homepage is:
http://homepage.mac.com/mkcs1/
divided into two albums- Zürich, Lugano, Luzern and Switzerland 2004
Also for those looking for hotel recommendations more detailed hotel photos are posted on:
http://worldisround.com/
search by hotel name or location.

Trip basics:
I prebooked all of our hotels on the individual hotel websites via e-mail. Rooms were held with a credit card and I printed out all correspondence from each hotel in case any questions or confusion about our reservations arose (none did). One week of our trip was booked with a timeshare trade. For all of our lodgings I did research on this board, Trip Advisor, and the Timeshare Users Group to find out what type of rooms to request (which floors were the quietest, had the best view, good balcony, etc.). Then I e-mailed each hotel and put in my requests, which were honored when we checked in.

I had determined that the best transportation deal for us was the Swiss Rail Half Fare Card for 99 CHF each which allowed us to buy point to point tickets for half price, including the Alpine excursions we hoped to be able to take (weather permitting). Once we landed at the Zürich airport we went downstairs to the train station and used the Swiss rail travel agency to purchase our Half Fare Card and train tickets to our major destinations, plus a Zürich day card (discount rate if you have the Half Fare Card) which covered our train trip into town and any tram rides we took while there for 24 hours. We did NOT purchase any transportation tickets for the Berner Oberland region, as we did not want to be locked into those tickets until we knew the weather conditions. We bought individual tickets as needed (getting them for half price) once we got to that region. Since we were there during the off-season we never waited in lines at the train stations.

One recommendation if you have some idea of what train travel you might be using: I went on the Swiss rail website http://fahrplan.sbb.ch/bin/query.exe/en and printed several options of train schedule timetables for destinations where we were planning to go. This way we had the information at hand rather than having to call or go to the train stations to check the scheduling boards as we were making our daily plans.

One more point about the trains. On most of the trains we were on there was not a separate non-smoking car, only a non-smoking section in each 2nd class car. This section was separated by a glass partition but sometimes that did not completely close off the section. Once we got stuck sitting in the first row of seats in the non-smoking section, the smoke wafted over the partition and it was became even more smoky as everyone had to open the door and walk through the smoking section to get to the WC. If smoke bothers you try to get on the train early and get a seat at the very back of the non-smoking section, then if you need the WC go behind to the next car.

Now on to the trip report:

Zürich-
Hotel Adler, one night. Very good location in the old town pedestrian zone area and an easy walk from the main downtown train station. Rate for our small double room with bath including breakfast, 180 CHF.

Spent our first night here, flew overnight non-stop from DFW so arrived early morning. Did not expect our hotel room to be ready but when we arrived they asked if we wanted a smoking or non-smoking floor (which we were pleasantly surprised about) and said they would have a room prepared soon. They invited us to sit in the restaurant and have coffee (no charge). Our room was ready by around 9 a.m. so we were able to check in, unpack and have the rest of the day free for sightseeing.

We were given room 315, a small double facing the back courtyard. Nice room with minibar fridge, small safe, bright spotless bathroom with tub/shower combo. Breakfast buffet in the hotel restaurant was a nice selection of breads, cheeses, fruit, yogurt and probably the best coffee we had on this trip.

One of the nice perks of this hotel was a computer in the first floor sitting room with free internet. On the downside, this area of town is noisy due to all the clubs and restaurants nearby. A live band set up in the courtyard restaurant below our room and the music was very loud until after midnight. However, the windows are pretty well soundproofed so by closing the window we could seal out much of the noise. We were there on a Friday night so I do not know if the party atmosphere takes place on weekday evenings.

We spent our only day in Zürich strolling around the old town, along the river and down to the lake. My husband is a big James Joyce fan so one reason we stayed in Zürich was to visit the cemetery where James Joyce is buried. We took the tram to the cemetery, which is also the same tram that goes to the zoo. It was a lovely small cemetery with beautiful flowers and the statue of Joyce at the gravesite was very nice.

Mürren-
Spent seven nights at the Anfi Palace Hotel. This was our timeshare trade so our only local cost was for the tourist tax of 77 CHF for the week. We had a large double room, with bath but no meals. This hotel is also available to non-timeshare folks for regular hotel rates. I was quoted a rate of 155 CHF per person per night but that included half board (breakfast and dinner) so I do not know what the rates would be without the meal plan.

This hotel is one of two four-star hotels in town. It is in a great location in the village of Mürren about a two-minute walk uphill from the train station. Our room had a minibar fridge, coffee maker, electric teakettle and dining service pieces (dishes, flatware, glasses). Plus a large granite topped desk area and a small granite table where we ate our in-room breakfasts and even a couple of dinners. We had a wonderful balcony view of the Eiger and Mönch mountains.

There is a COOP grocery store in the village where we stocked up on coffee, yogurt, beer, wine and trail mix. We bought bread and pastries from the tiny village bakery and we bought wonderful Alp cheeses from the farmers on our hiking excursions and at cheese shops in nearby towns.

I highly recommend the restaurant at the Anfi Palace, which has a gourmet menu and very nice wine list. We also enjoyed having traditional Swiss meals, fondue and raclette at the Hotel Alpina in Mürren and the Hotel Oberland in Lauterbrunnen.

We spent most of our seven days hiking the trails around the village, walking down to Gimmelwald then into the Kilchbalm valley, hiking above Mürren along the Northface and Flower trails, walking the trail to Grütshalp (stopped to buy wonderful cheese and yogurt from a farm house in Winteregg where you can watch the cheese being made) then a combination of road and trail down to Lauterbrunnen. Once in Lauterbrunnen we walked the path over to Trümmelbach Falls, which was quite impressive. We had several days of foggy, cloudy weather with intermittent drizzle but nothing that would prevent us from hitting the trails. One day we could not even see the mountain views due to fog but that made the forest hikes seem more romantic and mysterious. We loved hiking through the farmers meadows alongside the grazing cows while listening to the symphony of cowbells.

We were lucky enough to also have several gorgeous sunny days so we were able to take the cable car up to the Schilthorn to see the incredible views. Had breakfast in the panorama Piz Gloria restaurant (definitely recommend seeing the James Bond movie before you go, we watched it again after our return just to see the scenery). We took the cable car back to Birg and hiked the rest of the way back to Mürren. This was perhaps the highlight of our entire trip, wonderful interesting hike going through several vegetation zones and ending up with a reward of sitting on the terrace at the B&B in Sonneberg having a beer looking up at the Alpine splendor (see photos).

On another spectacular sunny day we went to the Jungfraujoch. (The tickets for both the Schilthorn and Jungfrau excursions were half price with our half fare cards). The last leg of this trip was on a modern train from Kleine Scheidegg to the Jungfraujoch, which had TV monitors in the cars. They show a video of the history of the region once you are into the tunnel and no longer have the incredible window views. You also stop twice are able to get off the train to look out of windows in the tunnel to see the glacier.

We spent most of the afternoon touring the Jungfraujoch, walking through the Ice Palace, stepping out at each vista point, taking the elevator to the Top of Europe. But our favorite part of the day was the hike along the glacier to the Mönchsjoch. This is a walk up the snowy path that takes about 45 minutes (not a severe uphill climb but at this high elevation for us it was a slow walk). At the end of the path is a hostel/restaurant where you can stop to warm up, have a beer or a bite to eat. The walk back down was much easier!

Lugano-
Took the train to Lugano, which routed us back up to Luzern where we had to change trains. The train trip from Interlaken to Lugano was beautiful, lovely scenery of the lakes and mountains. From Luzern to Lugano you could see the difference in the towns as we traveled from German Switzerland to Italian Switzerland. The mistake we made on this leg of the trip was not finding out that Lugano-Paradiso where we were staying had its own rail station so we took the train into the main Lugano station thinking it would be a long but easy walk.

We walked down through the old town center to the lakeside promenade and then about mile around to the Paradiso part of town. This was a lovely walk but once we got to Paradiso our hotel was straight uphill which was tiring with our luggage. We should have taken a cab or at least gotten off at the Paradiso stop, which is about halfway up the hill to where our hotel was located.

We spent two nights at the Hotel Villa Nizza which was is a wonderful family run pension next to a nice park with lake views from many of the rooms. We reserved a small room with lake view balcony for 230 CHF including breakfast and we were quite pleased. Room 39 was a corner room with a fabulous view of the lake. Because we were on the corner, from our balcony we also had a view of the park and we had a small window in the bathroom with a nice view.

The owner and staff of this hotel were friendly and very helpful. The restaurant was great and the owner made sure the waiter knew in advance that we are vegetarian so he was able to offer special suggestions for our meal. This was another highlight meal of our trip. The salads and pasta were wonderful with fresh vegetables and herbs from their garden. This hotel has its own small vineyard and they serve their Merlot in the restaurant and also make it available for purchase. We bought two bottles and the label from the 98 vintage is a painting of the same view that we had from our balcony.

Our only full day in Lugano was our R&R day. It was a Sunday so the shops were closed. We spent the day walking around the town and its parks. We window shopped along the main shopping street the Via Nassa , sat in the Piazza della Riforma where a small band was playing and a cheese market was being held, and walked the length of the promenade from Paradiso to the Parco Civico stopping for gelato and again for beer. The grounds of our hotel were quite nice with a small swimming pool but it was too cool this time of year for it to be in use. We spent quite a bit of time just relaxing and reading on the balcony and enjoying that view!

Luzern-
This time we were in the know and it was a short walk from our hotel to the Paradiso train station. We considered taking the train only half way to Luzern and going by ferry the rest of the trip but decided to go straight to Luzern and save our ferry ride for the next day.

We spent our last two nights in Luzern at the Hotel Des Alpes, which seems to get good and bad reviews based on which room you end up in. It certainly is convenient for those traveling by train; only a few minutes walk over the river from the train station. I had requested a river facing room with balcony and the desk clerk almost seemed apologetic that they did indeed have one but only on the non-smoking floor. Of course that was fine with us. We were on the fourth floor, which has the completely enclosed concrete style balconies rather than the open balconies with iron railings. This ended up being perfect since during the cooler weather this shielded us from the wind and we could sit out in our nightclothes in complete privacy. Based on older reviews it was apparent that our room, number 458, had been remodeled with a pleasing color scheme and a bright modern bathroom done is all white tiles.

We spent our first day in Luzern seeing the major sites, the Chapel Bridge, the Spreuer Bridge, the Hofkirche, the Lion Monument and walking along the rampart walls and up into the towers. We were very happy with the location of the Des Alpes since it is in the pedestrian only old town and easy walking distance to many sites. For dinner we had traditional Swiss dishes at the Des Alpes restaurant, eating outside along the river. My husband had raclette and I tried a noodle, cream and cheese dish that was served with applesauce (thank goodness we spent this entire trip hiking and walking!).

We spent our last day in Switzerland leisurely seeing a few more sites around the old town, and took an afternoon ferry trip to Weggis. The ride was nice but by the return trip the weather was getting cloudy, windy and cold. Back in Luzern we spent the rest of the day walking through the old town and stopping to buy a few souvenirs. I recommend the COOP store for good prices on candy bars. My husband found a golf cap here for about half the price of the other tourist shops (as you can tell we are not big shoppers). They also have a nice grocery store in the basement where we bought beer and snacks to have on our balcony before dinner.

We had to leave the hotel to catch an early train to the Zürich airport so we missed breakfast. However since it was only 30 minutes before they began serving I asked if we could grab a few rolls to go. The desk clerk unlocked the restaurant and invited us to take whatever we wished from the buffet so we took some rolls and fruit to eat on the train. Although others have complained about the staff at this hotel we found them to quite accommodating.

Final Impressions-
We loved Switzerland and will definitely go back to spend more time in the Berner Oberland, see some of the areas around Geneva, perhaps see the Matterhorn and do some hiking in that area. Although we are not skiers it seems that many trails are groomed for winter hiking so we would love to come back to visit during the snowy months. I made fondue for dinner this week; we listened to our Swiss Alpen music CDs and began planning the next trip. I am sure I will be back on these boards looking for more advice. Danke to all who helped me with this trip!

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