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Trip Report Summer Interrupted; Christmas in Germany & Switzerland

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December 14, 2014 – January 6, 2015

The mere thought of yet another hot summer Christmas in Australia was the catalyst for this trip; we’d so enjoyed our cold weather Christmas in Switzerland and Germany last year that we decided to do it all again.

Due to work obligations, we were forced to travel later in December than we would have liked, putting us in alpine Switzerland at the height of the holiday ski season and causing some anxiety when trying to find an apartment rental that wouldn’t break the bank.

It also took some doing to select a smallish city in Germany that would provide my Christmas Market fix, offer some walking opportunities and be easily reachable via train from Zurich. The Fodorites were consulted and the clear winner was Freiburg im Breisgau.

Having discovered Scuol in the Lower Engadine last year, we knew we wanted to return; we managed to secure the same apartment for a full week, albeit at a much higher price due to time of year.

However, we’d waffled about where to spend our second full week in Switzerland, wanting something new, yet still craving snow covered mountains and alpine villages. The Fodorites spoke again, suggesting Gstaad as a potential base. Gstaad at Christmas is frightfully expensive, but we found a promising apartment in the tiny community of Blankenburg, located some 40 minutes by train from Gstaad and a three minute train ride (or 15 minute walk) from Zweisimmen, which turned out to be a match made in heaven.

Hence the itinerary:

Freiburg im Bresgau, Germany – five nights

Scuol, Switzerland – seven nights

Blankenburg, Switzerland – seven nights

Zurich – one night

Singapore – 11 hour stay in Changi Airport Transit Hotel

The worst bit of course, was getting there; Bill Bryson didn’t coin Perth, Australia as ‘the world’s most remote city’ without reason; we’re in the sticks mate! Flights from here are long and expensive.

December 14 – Flight One, Perth to Singapore

We left Perth around 5:30 pm and arrived in Singapore some five hours later. We’d selected preferred seats that offered significantly more leg room, but did nothing to alleviate the uncomfortable butt and back killing seats themselves on Singapore Air’s 777. The downside of bulkhead preferred seats of course is their proximity to babies (the basinets are located in these rows) and naturally we were in a row full of unhappy ones. In fact the whole flight seemed filled with disgruntled children. I was in a staggered aisle seat that protruded into the aisle somewhat (45C), so I was abused a bit by passing food carts and luggage, but I quickly learned to withdraw my feet and elbows at the first sign of aisle activity.

A two hour layover in Changi gave us just enough time to collect some transit vouchers, grab a bite to eat, and redeem the vouchers for a discount at My Foot in Terminal 3, each opting for a pre-flight neck and back massage (SGD $84 for two 40 minute massages, very soothing, no man-handling like last year, my faith in My Foot has been restored).

December 15 – The Big Flight, Singapore to Zurich

Ah yes, thirteen long hours of overnight cattle class bliss. The seats on Singapore Airlines A-380, that cavernous flying city, were considerably more comfortable than on the 777. Add to that our primo preferred seats in the very quiet, baby-free, small Economy cabin on the upper deck with loads of legroom, and we were good to go (Row 80). We both passed on the offered dinner and breakfast (which always seems to surprise and concern SQ flight attendants for some reason), but I did help myself to a weird sandwich from the galley mid-flight, the ingredients of which were indistinguishable, but surprisingly tasty.

We arrived in Zurich 24 hours after leaving our house in Perth, much less wrecked than expected, having both managed a few hours of upright sleep. We sought out cappuccinos (5.40 CHF each), picked up train food at Migros, purchased our train tickets to Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany (65 CHF each, one way) and purchased a 15 day Swiss Saver Pass, post-dated to begin December 20, the day we were to leave Freiburg (856 CHF for the two of us, second class).

We’d toyed with purchasing the tickets to Freiburg online prior to arrival at a reduced cost, but had concerns about our flight being late and missing a specifically booked train. Our fears were unfounded.

We’d also looked into bus transport, but in the end convenience won out over economy, train it was. We boarded a train at the airport station and after a quick change to an ICE train at the Zurich Hauptbahnhof we were off to Freiburg. Some two hours later, near noon, we checked into our home for the next five nights, the lovely Hotel Minerva.

Not only is the Hotel Minerva ideally located about five minutes walk from the train station, it’s peaceful, spotlessly clean and comfortable. We paid 140 EUR per night for a ‘large’ room (#18, corner unit); fabulous breakfast included. Our room was hardly large, but it worked well for us; we thoroughly enjoyed our stay (and they get extra points for letting us check in so early). Added perks were free fast internet, a KOMBI Ticket for free transportation on local trains and buses, of which we took full advantage, and tiny packets of gummy bears on our pillows upon arrival.

We spent the remainder of the day wandering the streets of Freiburg, just trying to stay awake as long as possible and wasting no time tucking into bratwurst at the Munsterplatz open air market, and gluhwein and kartoffelpuffer at the nearby Christmas Market, surprised at how busy it was so early in the afternoon on a Monday; lots of school groups milling about. About those kartoffelpuffer...sure, we’d eaten garden variety potato pancakes before, but these were our first genuine German kartoffelpuffer, the real McCoy, and they were fabulous in all their deep fried, garlic sour cream dipped, calorie laden glory. Wunderbar! The eating fest had begun.

Less than an hour in Freiburg and I was already blown away by the abundance and variety of bakeries; this was a town after my own heart. After locating a grocery store and winding down over drinks at Pizzeria/Wine Bar Casanova, conveniently located around the block from our hotel (8.80 EUR), we returned to Hotel Minerva and hit the 5:30 pm. It felt like the day would never end.

To be continued...

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