Swiss Trip Comments - Not a Trip Report

Old Sep 30th, 2022, 08:19 AM
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Swiss Trip Comments - Not a Trip Report

My wife and I just returned from a three week trip to Switzerland and France (Haute-Savoie only). We had a wonderful time but this isn’t a trip report with the usual details. Instead, I’d like to share a few observations that might be helpful to other travelers.

Itinerary: Detroit - Zurich - Grindelwald - Gstaad/Saanen - Chamonix - Geneva - Annecy - Lyon - Detroit. The open jaw route was very cost effective. Our air fare was about the same as a round trip to Zurich.

Covid: After two years of not traveling it was great to go again. We felt that the risk of contracting Covid is manageable now. We are both fully vaccinated and we wore masks in crowded places like cable cars and waiting lines (buses and airports). Very few people were wearing masks anywhere, I would guess less than 5% even where we used them.

Air Travel: Not fully recovered. We were booked to fly Delta to Amsterdam then KLM to Zurich. The Delta leg was fine but the KLM flight from AMS to ZRH was cancelled outright. KLM called it an operations issue. They rebooked us to fly AMS – GVA – ZRH. But the AMS – GVA flight was 1.5 hours late and we missed our connection to ZRH. KLM then booked us on a later flight to ZRH with Swiss Air and told us our luggage would be in Zurich. We checked the carousel in GVA anyway and saw out bags there. Good thing. We re-checked them when we checked in with Swiss Air later for the ZRH flight. I give KLM a lot of credit for getting us to Zurich on the same day but their operations at AMS are clearly not running smoothly yet. We got to Zurich eight hours later than scheduled. I was exhausted.

Pickpockets: These creeps. I hope they rot in a special level of purgatory. The risk is real, even in Switzerland. Take the necessary precautions! These people are ghosts; you never see them. My wallet was lifted in the Interlaken train station. It was our first full day in Switzerland right after our odyssey to Zurich. I hadn’t gotten around to rearranging my valuables yet and the wallet was still in my back pocket. My fault. We are obviously old and foreign, and I’m sure we’re targeted -- we were hit three times in three weeks. First the Interlaken theft where I lost cash and credit cards. Then my wife’s backpack was opened in a grocery store near the Geneva train station; she noticed it walking a block later but nothing was missing. And my backpack was opened in the big food market in Lyon; also nothing missing. We were lucky with the backpacks. Both of them had more cards and documents in them, but buried deep in inner pockets. After I lost my credit cards my wife had to pay for the rest of the trip. But she says I have to reimburse her.

Bus Travel: I love the trains in Switzerland. But we used buses in France to go from Chamonix to Geneva to Annecy to Lyon. They were considerably cheaper than the train and just as fast. The routes were direct while some of the train routes involved changes. The buses were clean and comfortable, and usually not full. Train and bus travel in Switzerland is integrated and you can buy tickets for both in well run ticket offices. (Usually – we encountered small stations where the office was closed and you had to use the ticket machine.) Not necessarily the case in France. The bus companies (Flixbus and Blablacar) are private. In Annecy the only way to buy our tickets to Lyon was to do it on line. I am digitally disadvantaged and had to get help from a friendly local.

Some Destination Comments

Grindelwald – We love Grindelwald. It always pleases. It would be nice if one or two more restaurants opened up, though.

Gstaad – Nothing special. Cute ski resort. But unless you plan to ski or get invited to high end parties there’s not much there except expensive shopping.

Gruyeres – Not worth the effort it took to get there. We took the train from Saanen and it was a 1.5 hour trip, one way, involving a change with a 30 minute wait. The town itself is like a thousand other hill towns in Europe. It just has a funky name. Who wants to go to a museum of contemporary art in a medieval village? You can’t even see them make the cheese. It was all restaurants and souvenir shops. (There is an old chalet but we didn’t bother with it.)

Chamonix – This was my first visit to Chamonix and I loved it. Great hiking, breathtaking views, lots of restaurants. A little hard to get to; there seemed to be a lot of French people there who had driven. We took the train in from Martigny in Switzerland, that route’s about a 3.5 hour trip from Montreux. It’s only a one hour bus ride from Geneva, though.

Geneva – There’s no reason whatsoever to go to Geneva as a tourist.

Annecy – Nice but mostly a family vacation place with a lake focus. We spent the night there because it was on our route. In fact, you can see all the cute stuff and have a meal in three or four hours.

Lyon – We enjoyed Lyon a lot. First time there for both of us. It’s very French with wonderful architecture and landmarks. The size is very manageable and we walked almost everywhere. It has to be the food capital of the world. The food was delicious everywhere we ate, although I didn’t have any of the traditional dishes like tripe or calf’s head. Not for me.




I hope readers find these comments helpful. We had a great trip in spite of a couple of destinations that didn’t live up to expectations. And the pickpockets.
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Old Sep 30th, 2022, 09:06 AM
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We're currently in Switzerland - one of our favorite countries - this is probably our 20th visit.

Train and bus travel in Switzerland is integrated and you can buy tickets for both in well run ticket offices. (Usually – we encountered small stations where the office was closed and you had to use the ticket machine.)

Better yet - use the SBB app! It's a wonderful thing.

We loved Gruyeres! Went twice in the same trip....from Blankenburg, so not a short journey. We personally loved the HR Giger museum and gorging ourselves on Raclette and Cailler chocolate. And getting snowed in one year...but different strokes.

I'm truly surprised to hear about the pickpocketing, and I'm very sorry this happened to you. And the flight fiasco - not the way anyone wants to start a journey.

And FYI - it's Swiss International. Swiss Air is long gone.

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Old Sep 30th, 2022, 09:23 AM
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Probably not KLM's fault but Schiphol's fault. Not enough security staff and they can't get any more so are continuing to cancel flights until at least December and probably well into next year. You can probably apply for compensation even though you got there in the end.
My son has a trip booked for November and I am really hoping he gets to make it, but knowing his luck it will be cancelled at short notice.
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Old Sep 30th, 2022, 10:30 AM
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It is true that Lyon is considered the food capital of France.
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Old Sep 30th, 2022, 04:16 PM
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Sorry to hear about the pickpocketing.

Re: flights….I decided to route and schedule my next trip with long layovers and 2 N either end at arrival/ departure to hopefully avoid those issues. Trying to minimise stress.

And yes, the Swiss coordination of travel, it spoiled me for anything else, lol.
When I researched Puglia by public transport, it seemed I’d need a lot of patience and flexibility, not ready for that just yet.
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Old Sep 30th, 2022, 09:53 PM
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Hi MichGuy,

Yikes, so sorry about the pickpockets! That is a nasty hit, but thankfully you didn't lose ypur passport!

I also like Grindelwald and chose to stay there when I took my Mom on a trip. I particularly loved the ice-sculpting competition they hold in January.... so nice to wander through the various pieces from artists all over the world. Later, though, I found the car-free town of Wengen much more to my liking -- I came to dislike the lines of cars through small Grindelwald.

Oooh my, I adore Gstaad and Gruyeres! I liked the castle in Gruyeres quite a lot, and like to roam through the cemetery at the back of town. Also very high on my list is berries in Gruyeres double-cream.... aaaaahhhhhhhhhh.

In Gstaad, yes, one sees those young models draped in designer clothes and swaying on stilettos, but you also see middle-aged couples in worn outdoor clothes, all dusty and ruddy from their day outside. I found some fabulous hiking and walking in the area: Wispile to Lauenensee, Saanen to Gstaad, Rougemont to Gruyeres, and more. Though it's true I've come to prefer soft, green, rolling hills to the drama of sharp peaks. Some photos??











Last edited by swandav2000; Sep 30th, 2022 at 10:02 PM.
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Old Oct 1st, 2022, 01:34 AM
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Too bad about the pickpockets, sorry for that.

Like some of the previous posters I am baffled by some of your comments on destinations, though. All subjective, of course.

Gstaad is equally a place for (excellent) hiking as it is for skiing. And it has no crowds, hardly any coach tours, unlike Grindelwald.

Apparently you missed the castle in Gruyeres, although it dominates the town and is hard to overlook. That is what the town is famous for - and why so many people visit. And the museum of contemporary art - well, if it would not attract visitors it would long be gone, don't you think?

I am also irritated by all the bashing that Geneva gets here on this forum (like Zürich, btw.) If people would bother looking beyond the international associations district and the expensive shopping they would find a city with excellent museums, art/culture, churches, parks and medieval old town. Not to mention the beautiful surroundings with the lake, Jura mountains and Alps, the vineyards ...
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Old Oct 1st, 2022, 06:33 AM
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Well, it sounds like I'm out of step with some of the other travelers on a couple of items. That's OK, that's what forums are for. Maybe I was in a sour mood because of the pickpocket thing. And Melnq8 -- I always thought highly of your advice here.

Covid update: I spoke too soon when I posted this thread. I came down sick yesterday morning and tested positive for Covid this morning. Yuck.
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Old Oct 1st, 2022, 10:32 AM
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I think I'd be in a sour mood too under the circumstances Mitch.

I'm really, really sorry to hear about the COVID. I hope you have a very mild case.
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Old Oct 11th, 2022, 07:25 AM
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I am sorry about the Covid too - and I hope it is a mild case. I read your comments with interest and had to agree with some of them. But not about Gruyères! You missed the Demonstration Cheese Factory (which is at the bottom of the hill, near the station) and that is too bad. It is very interesting to see how the cheese is made. And clearly you missed the château which is quite remarkable and well worth a couple of hours exploration. (It's at the very top of the village - just walk up until you come to a gate. There it is!).

Pickpockets - unfortunately they hang out around stations all over Europe. I have been pickpocketed myself when on the way to the GVA airport for an international flight. It is a horrid experience and how fortunate your wife had her credit cards with her. When you are jetlagged you forget about normal precautions.

Geneva and Zürich -- both places have a lot to offer but you have to know what to look for! Both have beautiful old towns. Both are on lovely lakes. Maybe come back and give them another go too ??
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Old Oct 11th, 2022, 08:22 AM
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I live in Switzerland and agree with the OP. I hope you reported the stolen wallet at the train station. Quite often they'll send more security to thoses places.

I've heard about Lyon as being a foodie destination and hope to make it there someday.

Thanks for sharing!
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Old Oct 12th, 2022, 12:17 AM
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I am Swiss and live in Switzerland too. That didn't stop me from being pickpocketed! What I did was to call the local Police to report the crime. Then while on the train to GVA airport I stopped all my credit cards, bank card etc. when I spoke with the Police here they told me to file an official complaint at the airport Police station. Which I did. The very nice woman who dealt with me said more than likely the wallet and all its contents - except the cash - would turn up. When I got home about a month later there was a message from someone who had found the wallet and turned it into the Police. So I was able to get it, and all the CCs, but best of all - ID card and driving license. I was not looking forward to the process of renewing those! Cash of course was gone. Since then I have been hyper-careful. BTW this was not at a big station! It was in Martigny...
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Old Oct 12th, 2022, 08:02 AM
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Originally Posted by MichGuy View Post
Who wants to go to a museum of contemporary art in a medieval village?.
The lack of contemporary art in some places makes me think of it as a dead civilization. I want to see the work of living artists as well as the really old stuff.
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Old Oct 12th, 2022, 12:04 PM
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Update! Since I seem to be in the minority regarding my opinions of Gruyeres and Gstaad, I feel like I have to reply! But first, thank you all for your kind comments. My Covid bout was short -- four days with a little fever and stuffy head. I'm fully recovered but not in a hurry to tangle with it again. And the pickpocketing too. BTW, I went to the police station in Grindelwald four times to report it but the station was closed every time. Not much crime there I guess. As a result, I never did report it. Too bad. Several people also told me the wallet might turn up. Not yet.
Now, about Gruyeres: There's nothing wrong with Gruyeres, we enjoyed it. If I sounded too critical I'll lay it off on my sour mood of the day. But let me say this: 1) We tried to go to the cheese making demonstration by the train station and it was closed (open mornings only). 2) We did get to the castle and tried to walk around it, following RS advice about not bothering with the inside, and most of that path was closed. There are equally interesting castles elsewhere (e.g. Chillon). 3) While the village buildings were cute, it was hard to see them fully because of all the tourist shops lining the street in front of them. So, again, it was a nice enough day, just not worth the time it took to get there.
And Gestaad: I'll stand corrected here. It's just that Gstaad wasn't what I expected. I reckon that I've been spoiled by the views from Grindelwald and the Lauterbrunnen valley.
Geneva: We spent an entire day walking in the old town and the parks and waterfront below. Very pleasant but nothing special. I would advise tourists with limited time to spend it elsewhere. Plus our hotel cost over US$200 per night and the room was a box.
Amsterdam airport: Schiphol still has problems. I talked to my neighbor yesterday. Her daughter and hubby flew back from AMS to DTW last Sunday (10/9) and had to wait five hours in line to go through security. Last to board and nearly missed the flight.
So I am contrite and will remain open to all points of view.
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Old Oct 13th, 2022, 12:16 AM
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Gstaad - I have to say it isn't my favourite place. As a ski resort it is low. Snow is often a problem. The only high skiing is at les Diablerets which is a fair bus ride from the village of Gstaad and where the skiing is not good at all. The village strikes me as "Heidiland" - artificial Swiss - and the shops are not ones where my bank account would feel comfortable letting me shop. I always tell people to skip Gstaad but instead to spend time in Saanen and or Rougemont. Both those villages are lovely...

Too bad you were advised not to go into the château at Gruyères. It is very very interesting, plus the views of the countryside around from inside the château are great. There is usually some special exhibition on there too. And too bad too that the Cheese Factory wasn't open. I find that strange... but then a lot of things are strange after Covid!

I hope you will come back again!
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Old Oct 14th, 2022, 09:51 AM
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I admit I have a soft spot for Gruyéres because that's where I learned about Gruyère Mac and Cheese. I also liked the chateau. In your defense, however, I also wrote, "... we headed off for the town of Gruyéres, a town we had heard good buzz about. We turned off at a place we thought was Gruyéres, because it said it was, and there was a big cow on the roof (a fake cow, by the way). “Well this is nothing like what I had read about,” I said to Tracy. “That’s because I believe we are just at a rest stop,” she replied. “Gruyéres is still a couple of exits away.” Gruyéres was cute, but not as cute as I had imagined (sort of like that blind date that had a good personality). It was, however, much nicer than the rest stop.
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Old Oct 15th, 2022, 12:09 AM
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The rest area on the autoroute you stopped at is called "la Gruyère". La Gruyère is the REGION in which Gruyères, the village, is located. You needn't feel tricked! It was an honest and understandable mistake on your part. The village of Gruyères is not accessible from the autoroute - you have to get off at Bulle and then drive on the route cantonale to Gruyères. Which I assume you must have done!
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Old Nov 6th, 2022, 04:27 PM
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For security in any backpack with double zippers, try these tiny double carabiners. They add an extra step to opening a zipper and even have a swivel lock for more security. Black locks on a black bag are hardly noticeable.
Nite-I’ve S-biner microlock, available on A and elsewhere.
I have even sewn a small loop to a zippered jacket pocket to use this lock.
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Old Nov 9th, 2022, 06:05 AM
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Schlemm - then you need to go to Verbier and visit the Sculpture Park there. Lots of works by Swiss artists - young artists - and it makes for a wonderful walk as well. From Verbier take the télécabine from Médran to Ruinettes. Then walk down a little and you will come to what is called a "chemin d'alpage" - an unpaved mountain road. Follow that to the left and you reach the Sculpture Park in maybe 20mins. Then meander along the road, witih the sculptures on each side. Wonderful place for photos with the Combin in the background. At roughly the end of the Sculpture Park you will see the Dahu restaurant which is a perfect place for lunch or a snack - or a fondue.
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Old Nov 10th, 2022, 01:06 PM
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Beware of thieves at Geneva Airport

My wife and I arrived at Geneva Airport a few days ago. We proceeded to the train station ticket office to purchase the Swiss pass. To see an attendant you need to take a number and wait your turn. There are a few chairs in the waiting area where we sat with our luggage next to us. When my turn came I went to the counter to purchase my tickets. After purchasing the tickets and returning to the waiting area, where my wife was seated, I discovered my small carry on bag had been stolen. It disappeared in the blink of an eye from right next to my wife and in the middle of the ticket office. I ran around the station like a mad man looking for anybody but the thief had gone. The bag had everything from my laptop, credit cards, cash, keys... you name it. The only thing it didn't have were our passports (Thank God) which I needed to purchase the tickets. We went to the police station inside the airport and filed a report, but have heard nothing since then. I have made it my mission to advise as many people as possible on every forum possible, who are thinking of travelling to Geneva, to beware of this. Apparently this issue is common in Geneva as I have since read a few warnings on some government websites. Switzerland is a beautiful country which we have visited nearly every year for the last 15 years. This experience has totally changed my attitude to safety and travel. Thieves can be anywhere (even Switzerland!) so please everybody take very good care of your personal belongings and don't let them out of your sight for a second.
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