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Trip Report A Winter Wander – Engadine and Berner Oberland

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December 5-28, 2013 (inclusive of a week in Germany)

About us:

We’re cold weather loving American expats living in Perth, Australia. December through March is beastly hot in our neck of the woods and summertime Christmas just isn’t our thing, so this year we fled, trading white sand beaches for white covered mountains.

Flights from Perth are neither cheap nor short. We flew Perth-Singapore-Zurich outbound, Munich-Singapore-Perth inbound on Singapore Airlines; AUD $4,350.04 for the two of us, $234 of which was for preferred seating (exit row) on the long flights (13 hours from Singapore to Zurich, just over 11 hours from Munich to Singapore). The flight from Perth to Singapore added another five hours.

We love Switzerland and have visited the Berner Oberland several times. We’ve also made previous trips to Germany; when we lived in Kuwait our flights to the US were routed through Frankfurt. A stopover in Germany was always welcome, especially in December for a big dose of holiday cheer, pork and adult beverages, which were pretty hard to come by in the Middle East.

The Engadine has long been on my radar, and after tormenting the incredibly patient, helpful and Engadine-savvy Ingo (thank you, thank you, thank you!), we were finally good to go.

I’ve planned many trips over the years, and I have to say that this was probably one of the most difficult. Deciding how long to stay in which towns, and finding/ booking the Engadine accommodation was particularly challenging. I spent so much time figuring out the Engadine portion that I didn’t do a bit of research for the BO or Germany, feeling pretty confident since we’re relatively familiar with both.

Our itinerary, Switzerland:

Samedan, Upper Engadine – five nights
Scuol, Lower Engadine – five nights
Lauterbrunnen – four nights

Our itinerary, Germany:

Rothenburg ob der Tauber – three nights
Munich – five nights

I’ll cover Switzerland in this post, and then add a link to the Germany report towards the end. A word of warning: I write very detailed trip reports. I’ll try to rein myself in, but no promises.

Switzerland has a well-deserved reputation of being expensive, but after living in pricy Perth for five years, it felt like pretty good value to us. We saved money by booking apartments, which we prefer anyway. My research indicated that rates went up on December 14 in the Upper Engadine and a week later in the Lower Engadine and Berner Oberland. Therefore our strategy was to be out of Switzerland altogether by December 21, which not only saved money, but enabled us to avoid the 7-14 day minimum booking requirements over the Christmas holiday and the subsequent crowds.

December 5 & 6: Planes and trains

What can I say, flights are flights; predictably long, uncomfortable and tortuous in coach.
However, this was the first time we’d flown the Airbus A380, a plane I swore I’d never step foot on; the number of people it can accommodate just wigs me out. We boarded in the dark and arrived in the dark, so I never got a good look at the exterior of this massive plane. We were seated in the back cabin in row 54 and didn’t leave our area, so it felt pretty much like any other SIA coach flight, although the seats were significantly more comfortable than in the 777 from Perth to Singapore and it was incredibly quiet. It also took a VERY long time to deplane. The food was surprisingly good on both outgoing flights, pretty average on the return.

The video on my entertainment system didn’t work on the Perth to Singapore flight; a helpful flight attendant made several attempts to correct it, but to no avail. Before we landed, those of us affected were given S $75 vouchers to use towards in-flight duty free items as compensation. While I truly appreciate the gesture, in-flight duty free doesn’t much interest me and S $75 doesn’t go very far (I ended up with six – one ounce tubes of L’Occitane hand cream which sold for $71).

We had a two hour layover in Changi Airport, so in an effort to limber us up for the upcoming 13 hour ordeal, we both got a 40 minute, S $58 neck and back massage at My Foot in Terminal Three. My masseur was a brute, I was sore for days.

Some 24 hours after leaving Perth, we arrived in Zurich, exhausted and discombobulated. It was 32c when we left Perth (about 90F), 2c when we arrived in Zurich about (35F). JOY!

We walked from the airport to the attached train station, bought our train passes* (15 day Swiss Saver Pass, 405 CHF each), cashed up, caffeinated (13.20 CHF for a double tall latte and a tall chai at Starbucks, ouch), picked up some lunch provisions and began our 3.5 hour train journey to Samedan, which included two train changes, always fun with luggage.

*Anyone who has ever traveled by Swiss Rail knows that figuring out which pass, if any, is the best deal for their particular itinerary is half the battle in planning a trip to Switzerland. I’d crunched the numbers based upon what we hoped to cover, and the 15 day Swiss Saver Pass was the clear winner. It’s also incredibly convenient, as you can hop on and off trains and buses at will without having to stop to buy tickets.

At Chur we switched to the Rhaetian Railway, now on the Bernina Express route; the scenery beautiful, churches dotting hilltops, a blanket of snow on the ground. Heaven.

We arrived to a cold fierce wind in Samedan around 2 pm (9 pm Perth time). After sputtering a bit trying to find our accommodation, exhausted, grouchy and dragging luggage, we located our apartment building down the road from the train station. We got settled, and then walked to the nearby Coop grocery store to pick up breakfast provisions.

I absolutely could not stay upright a minute longer, I crawled into bed at 4 pm. Bill resisted, but joined me about 30 minutes later. It felt so good to lie down that the rock hard mattress barely fazed us. We slept for 13 hours.

The apartment:

Nice place, this. The bed was a bit odd, very low to the floor and basically a mattress on a recessed platform. Not particularly middle-age friendly, but we managed. The unit was spotless, fresh and incredibly quiet, spacious and well-equipped, the internet fast. The two sinks in the bathroom were a bonus, but the kitchen range hood was poorly positioned for anyone over four feet tall; we both repeatedly banged our head against its corner, inflicting pain and drawing curses. We immediately lowered the temp to 20c and cracked a few windows so we could breathe while our bodies adjusted to the dry climate.

The apartment was 690 CHF for five nights, all inclusive, paid in full two months in advance via bank transfer (USD $35 to transfer from our US credit union). We were required to sign a contract and the cost was non-refundable. Although we transferred 690 francs only 678 were received, so we assumed the additional 12 had been kept by the Swiss bank as a transfer fee; making the total cost 733 CHF, roughly 146 francs per night. Not a bad deal considering three star hotels in the area run about 220 CHF per night with breakfast. We dealt with Claudia Colombo-Pfister at Samedan Ferien, and although we never met her, she was a pleasure to work with online.

We self-catered our breakfasts while in Samedan and Scuol, easily falling into to an artery-clogging daily fry-up with pancetta, eggs and rosti, occasionally mixing things up with walnut bread, Boursin cheese and clementines.

We also consumed entirely too many gummy bears and chocolate bars, seemingly unable to sit on a train without rummaging in a backpack for something sweet.

To be continued...

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