The Trip To Switzerland – The Unplanned

The last few days of my trip to Switzerland were hectic, to say the least. I’m quite relieved that I finally found the time to write about it. Sometimes life gets a little bit faster than Twitter (not to mention blogging) so I thought it’s time to share my last 5 days…

The plan for this trip was fairly loose from the early beginning, to be honest. I just wanted to reconnect a little with my sister family, who live in Geneva, to have the New Year Eve in a hotel somewhere up in the mountains, and then enjoy each day as it came. That was the whole plan. After a few evenings at my sister’s place and several short shopping rides in Geneva and around, the first part of the trip was checked, so to speak. Something much more important had to happen. And we decided to make a short trip by train to La Gruyeres, a medieval castle in the Fribourg district of Switzerland.

La Gruyeres

At that time we didn’t have the car. Yet. The car came several days later. We were just regular tourists and so we acted, going straight to the train station and buying tickets for La Gruyeres. We had to change the trains at Palezieux, after one hour. We got in the train, comfortably sit down and started to enjoy the view. Traveling by train in Switzerland is really comfortable, the stations are clean and well organized, the trains are cosy and never saw a train wagon crowded. This must be because of the holidays, I suppose, so take this observation with a little bit of salt.

We were lucky to have a beautiful day, very sunny and almost warm. Everything looked gorgeous, especially the real estate properties on the shore of Lake Leman. After around 45 minutes of sightseeing we were still changing impressions about how beautiful the Lake Leman was, when, all of a sudden, we ran into a tunnel. We patiently waited to get out, thinking at more beautiful sights on that sunny day.

But surprise, the other side of the tunnel was in full winter. Half of a meter snow, fog and clouds. We couldn’t believe our eyes. We looked at each other clothes, which I can tell were no match for that weather and started to mildly laugh. We just got into a full winter area, with no warnings and no appropriate clothes. And sooner than we expected the train arrived at Palezieux. Our change.

We got down knowing that we have only 9 minutes to get the next train, from a line called, surprisingly, “PI”. All the lines in the station had numbers, and no “PI” line was there. I tried to find a person to ask about that. The station was basically empty, all doors closed. There was a little kiosk at the end of the station where a woman was selling newspapers. I kindly asked her where to find the “PI” line and then she pointed to a small train, outside the regular train station, somehow isolated. The next second she started to look a little concerned about the fact that we’re going to lose the train if we don’t hurry. And we hurried.

We catch the train just before it started to move. The scenery was copied from a regular Swiss post card: mountains, snow, fog and from time to time an old wood house. The small train proved to be quite comfortable, yet the stops were pretty close to one other. It was an old touristic train that left us right in the train station called “La Gruyeres”. It soon become obvious that we had to walk to the old castle, and so we did.

From here, the “La Gruyeres” story become fuzzier: we ate at a local restaurant, we visited the old castle, bought presents and returned with the same train circuit. It was the first real day of our holiday.

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The Trip To Switzerland – First Impressions

As I already mentioned, we planned for a longer holiday in Switzerland for this year. This trip involves also a Christmas holiday in the Alpes, near Gstaad, and some other activities, most of them related to my personal life. One of the most important is getting in touch again with my sister, who’s living here for more than 8 years now.

We got here by plane, on 20th December, flying Swiss. We’re in the full formula, meaning my wife and my daughter. We enjoyed a good and silent flight, shorter than the average period you need to cross Bucharest from one side to the other. That’s around 2 hours, by the way. We landed in Geneva and checked in to a hotel. Haven’t had any difficulties on the logistic side. We didn’t had any schedule made in advance, we adjusted things on the fly. Each afternoon or evening we are at my sister’s place, enjoying family life, and the mornings are set for some spontaneous activities.

Yesterday, for instance, we tried to do some shopping at IKEA. What should be a regular ride to a store in my country proved to be completely different in Switzerland. IKEA Switzerland is outside the city, at around 40 minutes by train, in a small city called Allaman. Getting there was funnier than we thought, we had to switch buses and trains only to got there. But it was fun.

Life Cost In Switzerland

The thing that surprised me the most was the unbelievable high price of the life in this city. I knew that Geneva was one of the most expensive cities in the world. I had a previous trip here in 2005 to the Auto Show which is held at Palexpo, so I already had some insight. But seeing this again in the light of a regular tourist, the city is simply unaffordable. Especially the transportation and the food costs are too high… I know this is one of the most important cities in the world, and setting a price barrier is one way of keeping it safer, but things are simply not justifiable. Whatever.

On the other side of the high price I must reckon that the quality of the products and services delivered is over the average. Way over the average, so I have to admit that there is some justification for the high prices, after all. Especially the food is looking and tasting much better than in other cities and the public transportation is on time and clean. Extremely clean. Taxis are unaffordable, we paid 10 EUROS for a 3 minutes fare. Clothing is ok as long as you don’t shop from the fanciest boutiques downtown.

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iPhone as a travel mate

Initially, this post was written during my first trip to New Zealand, September 2008. But since then I had several other long trips, including Switzerland, Thailand and Japan. Each of these trips added some value to the way I’m using my iPhone, so I felt the need to share what I’ve learned during those trips. You’ll easily find which application was used in which trip, but I guess the most important is to find some help and make your travels more enjoyable.

During my first trip to New Zealand, which is more than 20.000 km away from my country, Romania, I had the chance to use my iPhone as a travel companion. What follows is a compilation of what I tried, learned and used during that trip and the nex ones.

Maps

The first and one of the most important things about iPhone as a travel mate is the Maps application. Although I don’t have permanent internet access (I followed Apple’s advice about turning data roaming off, “to avoid substantial roaming charges…”) but I do have a decent WiFi access at my bed and breakfast facility here in Auckland. Every time I have to go to an area I don’t know yet, I open Maps and try to familiarize myself with the surroundings. I suppose that if I have data access everything would be even simpler, because I can just use the GPS facilities and find my way out in real time. But even without the GPS functionality, the Maps application is extremely useful. In the picture below you’ll see the very beach where I took the sunrise picture in the first post about the trip to New Zealand:

You can even see the tree under which I sat while I took the photo. I admit. sometimes this is spooky… But sometimes is just useful.

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