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Berner Oberland Two Weeks in Gstaad, Switzerland, 2003

The Alps in Switzerland in the Bern Canton.


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August 27 - October 1, 2003: 5 weeks in Switzerland and Italy. The first 2.5 weeks in Switzerland is published here. The Italy part of the trip will be in the Italy Trip Reports forum.

This trip report was originally published on my blog, which has closed. Moved to Slow Europe in 2022.

Trip Plan​

Flight: Delta Airlines - Albuquerque - Atlanta - Zurich
Leave Albuquerque Wednesday August 27, arrive in Zurich Thursday August 28. First class upgrades are booked!

Two Nights in Zurich
Thursday August 28 - Saturday August 30: 2 nights in Zurich at Hotel Claridge Tiefenau.
We stayed here the last trip and liked it. We like to spend two nights in the city we fly to. This allows us to take a taxi from the airport straight to the hotel and not have to drive while jetlagged. It gives us a "soft landing" in Europe, so we don't have to hit the ground running.

Car Rental Pickup
Saturday August 31 - Pickup rental car (will book through AutoEurope).

Two Nights in Konstanz, Germany
Saturday August 31 - Monday, September 1: 2 nights in Konstanz at Seehotel Siber, visiting friends from Germany who will meet us there.
I found this hotel by doing an Internet search. It is a small hotel in a villa on a street that goes along Lake Konstanz. It is expensive, but looked like a lovely hotel. We have not been to Konstanz before and thought it would be nice to spend two nights so we could visit our friends and see a bit of the town.

Two Weeks in Gstaad
Monday September 1 - Monday September 15, chalet apartment in Sanaan.
We are booked for Sunday, August 31 - Sunday, September 14, because it was not available on the Saturday. So we were able to add in the night in Konstanz - but now we have made that two nights, so will lose our first night here. But, I wrote to the agency and they changed our Gstaad booking to be Monday to Monday! (It is unusual that the booking was not Saturday to Saturday.)

We booked an apartment through a local agency, Sicking Immobilien. We got a list of local agencies from the Gstaad Tourist Office. You can also book online from the tourist office web site. We were in the middle of doing that when the booking part of their website went down and it never went up again (I told them about it and they said there was no problem) - so we booked with an agency. All the tourist office will give you is the list of what is available (they faxed this to me); they will not give you advice on which place might be better. They do rate them and give good descriptions - but you are on your own deciding. I tried booking with an American agency first, just to give them a try, but it took them two weeks to send me just one listing with poor photos and very little description. Also the place was twice the price of everything I saw on the tourist office site. I did find this same listing with a local agency, and it was almost the same price. It didn't seem worth it (and from the better photos the local agency sent, I could see the balcony looked right onto the tennis courts of the sports center).

We have a 2bed/2bath ground floor apartment in a chalet in Sanaan, the town next to Gstaad. From maporama, it looks like a quiet location outside the main part of town, near the hiking trails. The agency sent good photos. The furniture looks nice but not fussy. There are wood floors (except in the bedroom). It is a modern chalet with one family above.

On to Italy
After this we move on to Liguria, Tuscany and Rome.

Zurich Day 1 - We have arrived​

Well, we are here – a hotel in Zurich. As unlikely as it seemed a few days ago that I would manage to get the packing done and be able to leave, we did it.

The flight from Albuquerque to Atlanta to Zurich went smoothly. We had first class upgrades the whole way. I managed to sleep for about five hours on the Atlanta to Zurich portion, which is great because I usually don’t sleep much on overnight flights. We were using our new BOSE noise-cancelling headphones which we bought just for this trip and I think they made all the difference. They get rid of that loud “airplane” hum. We also took the No Jet Lag homeopathic pills, but I have never been convinced that they do anything.

Zurich airport is small and quiet – a subdued airport. You arrive to the onslaught of horrible perfume smells from numerous duty free shops, then you get your luggage and go out to the main airport and the onslaught of cigarette smoke. Everyone was smoking. It is always such a shock for me traveling to Europe to see how many people smoke here.

Customs consisted of only the briefest glance at the outside of our passports.

We took a taxi to the hotel (with windows rolled down because the taxi reeked of air freshener – they love air freshener in Switzerland); 53 Euro. Steve tipped when he really didn’t need to. He blamed it on jetlag. Our flight got in at 9am and we were at the hotel just after 10am. I was pretty pleased with how it had all gone, but all I wanted was a bath and a sleep. So I was upset when they told us a room would not be ready until noon. I had emailed them about our early arrival, but now they told us we had to book an extra night to get the early checkin. Nice. If they had said that in the email, I would have done that. Next time, I will book an extra night, or book at a larger hotel where there might be a better chance of getting a room earlier, or maybe it really is best to go somewhere on arrival so you get there later in the day.

But, even with first class seats and having slept some, I am always exhausted when I arrive in Europe. We talked to some other Americans who were renting a car at the airport, driving to Davos to find the train station, then driving on to Garda in the Engadine. Because they knew they would be tired, the day after they were only doing the one hour drive from Garda back to Davos to do an all day train ride on the Heidi Express. Some days it seems like everyone in the world has more energy than me. I am writing this on the day after our arrival, after sleeping 10 hours last night, and 5 hours yesterday afternoon, and all I want to do is go back to sleep.

So, instead of a bath and a sleep, we left our luggage and walked down to the lake, then walked along it for an hour. It was probably good for us. Gave us some exercise after being on the plane and some good sunlight to help the jetlag. It was warm. We were wearing jeans and light shirts and were comfortable enough. Some people were in swimming.

For lunch we went to Tibits, the Hiltl owned vegetarian restaurant on Seefeldstrasse above the Opera in the neighborhood of our hotel. We found it for the first time last year. It is inexpensive and the food is very good – a large vegetarian buffet with hot things and cold things. We sat at the large tables outside on the sidewalk. 34.20 CHF (~$25) for two – a small buffet plate (you pay by the weight) and an ice tea. For Switzerland this is very inexpensive for a meal.

Back to the hotel at noon and into bed. Slept until 6pm, then a bath and finally feeling human. The hotel is an old building (from the 1800s) in a neighborhood. The location is really great. We have been to Zurich many times and used to stay downtown. Last year and this year I have enjoyed being in this neighborhood. It is a 20 minute walk to the Bahnhofstrasse, but only 10 minutes to Seefeldstrasse, which is quite lively – full of restaurants and caffes.

We had dinner at Restaurant Hong Kong, where we ate last year. A small, vegetarian Chinese meal (egg drop soup, two vegetable/tofu dishes, rice) for 104 CHF – that is almost $75!! Now I remember why we always stay in vacation rentals in Switzerland and cook our own dinners!

Switzerland feels very prosperous. You look around and everyone seems well-to-do. I think they maintain a very high standard of living here. Zurich is a lovely city. The population is around 340,000, which makes the city feel managable and the airport easy to use. You don’t see old cars or scruffy people. You see a few “immigrants” but Switzerland strictly controls their immigration – immigrants are allowed in on temporary work visas. It is not easy to move here. The homes and apartments look lovely, the parks are spotless.

After dinner we walked along Seefeldstrasse and saw another good looking Asian restaurant and a Tibetan restaurant. Back to the hotel for a good nights sleep. Our room is in a corner on the 3rd floor (American 4th) with windows on two walls – three big windows. The windows are that wonderful Swiss style where you move the handle in one direction to open them wide or in another direction to open them just from the top for air. A big storm came up in the night and the wind was blowing through our room, banging the windows. There was some lightening and thunder, but I didn’t notice rain.

Woke up at 8:30 wishing we could sleep longer. Had a good Swiss breakfast in the room – coffee, hot milk, croissants (they call them “gipfel”), rolls, jam, boiled eggs. Connected to the internet to check our business email (TabbySoft). I did not check my email – I have decided to ignore it until we are in Gstaad next week. Earthlink gave us the Switzerland access number, but forgot to tell us to add a zero before the city code. Luckily we guessed that after our first failed attempt to get online. (Plus, don’t forget to set your dialer to NOT wait for a dial tone.)

I tried our Italian cell phone (to check our voice mail at home) but all I get is a message in German. It probably has something to do with using the Swiss Orange network from our Italian TIM phone – I will let our friend Ursula translate the message when we see her tomorrow.

Now we are off for the Bahnhofstrasse and the Old Town to do a bit of exploring before our next sleeping session. By tomorrow we will have finished with all this sleeping and be normal human beings once again.

Claridge Hotel Tiefenau, Zurich​

Near the Art Museum, above the opera, 10 minutes walk from Old Town and Seefeldstrasse, 20 minutes walk from Bahnhofstrasse. 4 stars.

Note from 2022: This hotel is now the 3 star Hotel Swiss Night by Fassbind. Rooms for September 2002 are around 150CHF.

Very good quality small hotel in an historic building in a residential area. Not much noise from the streets, but on our recent stay we were kept awake one night by helicopters flying overhead (I have no idea what that was about).

We stayed here for two nights in 2002 and again in 2003. Our room the first time was a good size with a nice bathroom; this trip we had a smaller room with a very small bathroom. My favorite thing about Hotel Tiefenau, besides the excellent location, is that you can have breakfast sent to your room. Coffee, hot milk, a basket of croissants and rolls with butter and jam.
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Zurich - Day 2​

Overcast, raining off and on

I said I was not going to retrieve my email, but of course I did when I was posting the journal. I made it 24 hours without email. However, as I am writing this, it is Monday night and I have not checked email since Friday – a new personal best.

Woke up to overcast and rain. We had breakfast in our room and hung around the room until noon, then headed out. First, coffee at Café Odeon, a famous old Zurich café. We sat at outside tables and people-watched. The day was clear for awhile.

Then we walked around Old Town, found a store that sells juggling balls and bought five leather ones for Steve (he juggles). Walked across the river to the more upscale part of Old Town and to the Bahnhofstrasse, the main shopping street that starts at the train station (Bahnhof). Bought handkerchiefs at Sturzenegger but the selection of women’s handkerchiefs was not as good as in previous years – are Swiss hankies finally going out of fashion? – good men’s selection, so Steve got four.

As we were walking up Bahnhofstrasse we noticed a new Orell Fussli store that sells only English language books. Usually we go to the main store just off the Bahnhofstrasse and get English language books for the trip, but this branch is all English language books. Apparently the store has been there for four years, and we have managed to miss it on other trips. There was a copy of the Sunday New York Times with the article with the mention of me and SlowTrav in it – very exciting to see that in Zurich (to think of people in Zurich reading about the web site!!). Even more exciting – a new P.D. James mystery!! I bought that and a couple of other light books for the trip.

We went to the Hiltl for lunch. This is a vegetarian restaurant that we go to on most trips to Zurich. The food and selection is excellent. It can be a bit crowded inside, but we got there around 2pm when it was not as full. Had a good lunch.

Today is turning into a total shopping day. Next we went to Jemoli, a big department store and bought very nice quality notebooks for the trip – one for me to tape in my receipts and two smaller ones to carry around to take notes. Walked back down Bahnhofstrasse, stopping at the pastry shop Sprungli to get a few “Luxemburgerli”, a small pastry/candy thing they are famous for (small round cookie like tops with different fillings – melt in your mouth sweetness – probably 99% sugar).

There are Starbucks in Zurich!! We saw one on the Bahnhofstrasse and one near Bellevueplatz, by The Odeon. We went into the one on the Bahnhofstrasse and had two short Café Americanos. It was exactly like a Starbucks in the US, except 1) the menu descriptions were in German 2) they had the “short” size (which has been abandoned in the US because it is just too small for us!). Short Café Americano – 4.40 CHF (over $3). They even had a tip jar – in a country where people usually do not tip (but it only had small change in it). They sold really horrible looking muffins – exactly like at home. I can’t imagine people going there when the Swiss tea rooms are so wonderful – but the Starbucks was packed with people.

It started to rain and I found out that the shoes I brought (and also brought on last year’s trip) leak when on wet streets. Within a minute my socks were wet. I don’t know if I just don’t remember this from last year (because I remember wearing them in the rain) or if it didn’t happen then. Anyway, a good excuse to buy some Mephistos which everyone on the board raves about. Everyone says to buy your new shoes a few weeks before your trip to break them in – now I am breaking these in on the trip.

We went back to the hotel for a rest and were about to take an afternoon nap when we realized it was 8pm, so we went out for a light dinner at Tibits (vegetarian buffet) instead.

Zurich Notes​

  • If you have to pay for a public restroom, it is usually 1 CHF (put a coin in the slot in the door to open it).
  • Taxi from airport to hotel 53 CHF.
  • Do not tip in restaurants. (You can leave some small change.)
  • Parking – if blue lines, look for a sign. Sometimes you need your parking disc (you can get one free from the tourist office), sometimes you need to pay at a machine, sometimes it is restricted to permit parking (we saw this in Zurich).
I met a woman on the plane who was going to the Engadine for the hiking. She told me about the Swiss National Park there (this was her first trip to Switzerland). I think some people may be under the mistaken impression that the only hiking in Switzerland is in the National Park. This is wrong – there is hiking in all the mountain towns and in most other areas too. We have not been to the National Park, but from what I read the hiking is good there too, but you do not have to go there for hiking. Hiking in the regular mountain towns would be better because it is nice to do the easy hiking from village to village – you don’t get this in the National Park.

I got a new one of those easy back purses for this trip (my other one had worn out). I think it is great to travel with a purse that you don’t mind trashing – because they get really trashed up on trips. I left my nice new leather purse at home.

Note to Self: I need to get one big duffel bag to hold all our hiking gear instead of distributing it around all our different bags.
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Konstanz (Germany) - Day 1​

Overcast and raining

The good news is that the European heat wave seems to have broken. The bad news is that it feels like winter. Luckily I threw in two more long sleeved t-shirts and a light jacket after I had finished packing mostly summer things.

Breakfast in the room, checked out of the hotel, taxi to EuropeCar. The car was all ready for us – a new C class Mercedes! We had booked a VW Bora size car and, just like last year, they gave us a Mercedes. Last year they gave us an even better model – this year it is the smaller C class, but it still drives great and parking will be easier.

Driving out of Zurich was easy. We followed the signs to the Autobahn, then to Winterthru, then to Konstanz. The driving in Zurich is easy. No one drives that fast and they leave each other plenty of room on the road and they don’t beep when you make a mistake (unlike some other countries that I won’t mention).

Is it just me or does everyone have a problem with those printed out driving directions from the route planning web sites? They are useless!! Last year I used mappy.com; this year maporama.com. They must all come from the same unintelligable database. Who can possibly follow them? To drive in Europe you need to memorize the towns along your route and navigate by town signs. Remember - the green signs are pointing to the the Autobahn/Autostrada routes. I started out following my maporama.com directions and could not follow them from the first turn. They list your route by street name and street names are usually impossible to find. Next trip a GPS!!!

We arrived in Konstanz at noon, just a bit behind schedule. We had planned to be at the hotel by noon. We were meeting our friends Ursula and Lionel who live 1 ½ hours north of Konstanz. We try to get together with them every second trip and usually drive up to their town, but they always talk about how much they love Konstanz, so I talked them into meeting us there.

The border into Germany was a bit slow, but they just waved us through. Then the traffic began. It took us an hour of stop and go to get from the border to our hotel – maybe 2 miles. We did manage a wrong turn and it took us 20 minutes to get back on track. By now it was pouring rain. It turns out that the Swiss pour into Konstanz for Saturday shopping. Many things are cheaper in Germany than in Switzerland. But, we also found out, the Germans drive to Switzerland for gas, which is much cheaper there. Our friends told us that the German government subsidizes the gas station owners in Konstanz because everyone goes to Switzerland to buy gas (endangered gas stations!!).

Checked into our hotel (lovely!) and met our friends. Ursula and Lionel are the fastest walkers we know. We are fast walkers, usually outpacing our friends and passing everyone on the streets when we walk, but I can barely keep up with Ursula and Lionel. We walked all over Konstanz, with just a short stop for some soup for lunch, seeing shops, historic buildings, churches, views. The day was turning very cold, so I bought a silk scarf to wrap around my neck (good excuse). I also bought some tea towels (I always buy tea towels when we go to Europe because they are so nice here) and these square towels that you hang in your kitchen to dry your hands. I had not seen those before, but Ursula told me what they were for.

There was a wedding going on in the big church and we waited until it finished. The bride and groom came out and two bands followed them – one German and one Swiss. They went off down the street in a big “marriage parade.”

We have known Ursula since we all studied Macrobiotics together for six months in Boston and in the Berkshires in 1987. We spent the whole day walking and talking. Ursula is a high school teacher; Lionel an architect (he builds factories – he was one of the architects who did the Smart Car factory).

For dinner, we went to their favorite restaurant in Konstanz – the restaurant in the Hotel Barbarossa. It was an old-style German restaurant, mostly meat and fish dishes. Steve had fish, I had noodles and mushrooms. Konstanz is famous for its salads. This is the mildest part of Germany and there is an island nearby that grows all the salad ingredients. My salad was really fresh and very good. Restaurants in Germany are much more reasonable that Switzerland. This meal for 4, including wine, was 84 Euro.

Konstanz Notes​

Konstanz is a lovely town. Part of it is in Switerland (with a different name) and part in Germany. We were only in the German section. It is on the western edge of Bodensee (also called Lake Constance). The Rhine River comes through the town to the lake and then exits from the other end of the lake. Three countries border the lake: Germany, Switzerland, Austria. A large part of southern Germany gets its drinking water from the lake. There is a pump station that takes the water from 60 meters down. The restaurants in Konstanz serve local fish from the lake. Steve (and Ursula and Lionel) said it was very good.

When I was booking our hotel I was deciding between the Seehotel Siber and the Inselhotel. I chose the Siber, which was a lovely hotel, but it would have been better if I had chosen the Inselhotel. It is closer to town and our friends stayed there. Our friends are not as into email as we are and I could not get them to advise me on a Konstanz hotel, so I gave up and just picked one.

Konstanz: Seehotel Siber
A Relais & Chateaux hotel, 4 stars
A small hotel in a old villa on the edge of Bodensee (Lake Constance). It is on the walkway that goes along the lake (no cars). 15 minute walk to the restaurants and shops in the town center. Beautiful rooms and a very attentive staff. They have a famous restaurant, but we did not eat there.

Our room was a “lake view”, but was on the 2nd floor (US 3rd) and had only a very small “eyebrow” window that looked to the lake. The larger windows looked to the side. Best to stay in the 1st floor lake view rooms, or the 2nd floor room with a lake view balcony.

Konstanz: Inselhotel
5 stars I think, but a similar price to the Seehotel Siber
A large old hotel (used to be a monestary) on the edge of the historic center of town. Excellent location. Our friends always stay here. They say the lakeview rooms are the best, but they can be noisy in summer from the terrace below.
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Konstanz (Germany) - Day 2​

Overcast, cool, some rain

All the shops in Konstanz are closed on Sunday. Many close at 2pm on Saturday. When we were out yesterday, the downtown streets were crowded with shoppers. Some of the larger department stores stayed open until 6pm on Saturday.

We met Ursula and Lionel late morning to spend a few hours together before they had to drive home. We took the bus to a nearby famous gardens – Insel Mainau (“insel” means island).

These are large private gardens (owned by Swedish royalty) on an island in Bodensee. This is the mildest weather in Germany because of a special microclimate formed by hot springs under the island and the southern location. They grow palm trees and banana trees here – and beautiful huge trees and acres of flowers.

The bus was 1,60 Euro each (for a 10 minute ride) and the garden was expensive to enter (10 Euro each I think). We spent several hours walking around the island – went into the butterfly house, walked around the villa where the family that owns it still live, walked along one of the most beautiful “tree tunnels” I have ever seen. I like gardens, but really don’t know much about them, but I think if you are a gardener, this is probably a great place to visit.

Took the bus back to Konstanz and had a late afternoon lunch at an old seaside restaurant. Everyone except me had the local fish and thought it was excellent. The restaurant was Konzil Gaststatten. 70 Euro for the four of us (just water and lunch).

Ursula and Lionel left and we went back to the hotel for a little rest. Before dinner we walked along the lakeside away from the downtown area. Lots of people were out walking – many with very cute small dogs. We even saw a dog like David’s (SlowTrav moderator) Hildy (dachshund).

For dinner we went to an Indian restaurant that Ursula recommended – The Rambagh Palace, Bruckengasse 1. It is upstairs above the bar we visited the night before. The food was excellent – we had a vegetarian set menu. And inexpensive! 43 Euro for two and we had beer.

The day had been cool – I wore my rain jacket – and it rained on and off, but we never got caught in the rain. One of the staff at the hotel said that last week they were watering the plants because of the drought and this week they were not watering them in case it froze at night!
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My Notes about Jetlag on This Trip​

This was our best trip ever for not suffering as badly from jetlag and I think it is because we were able to sleep on the plane. Last year we had booked Albuquerque – Atlanta – Zurich, but a security incident cancelled our Albuquerque – Atlanta flight, so we ended up doing Albuquerque – Cincinatti – Paris – Zurich.

It is best to spend your first two nights in the city in Europe where you first arrive; transferring planes in the early morning is exhausting.

Since we flew direct from the east coast to Zurich this time, we were able to sleep and were not so exhausted on arrival (although I was pretty tired). We walked that first morning, but slept all afternoon. After that we did not sleep in the afternoon again, but only at night.

On Friday, our first full day, we were tired from getting up in the morning (when the jetlag hits me the hardest), but kept going all day until bedtime.

The only affects we felt for the next few days were that it was hard to make ourselves go to bed on time and we were tired when waking, but we will force ourselves to get up early and go out and ADJUST!!

I miss my high speed internet!!​

High speed internet and my home computer – that’s what I miss. We are connected at 30,000 whatevers. Slow, slow, slow. The Earthlink number is NOT toll free, so I can hear our telephone chargers counter clicking as it turns over every few minutes that I am online. And I think my travel computer is screwed – some Windows error that happens whenever I go online. Steve is going to look at it tomorrow. I am on his computer now. This is not good, because I have a new web client and I have to get some work done this week.

But, we are in Gstaad and it is beautiful – as cold as late autumn, but beautiful! Our apartment is nicer than I imagined – and huge!

I will post more tomorrow. It is midnight and we still are not in bed. Jetlag will be with me for days – or is it just sleep lag because I no longer know when to sleep?

Note from 2022: Are we not lucky now with the internet access we always have?
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Driving from Konstanz (Germany) to Saanen (Switzerland)​

Overcast, no rain.

Up and out for a walk, then breakfast in the hotel. We were going to go to a café in town because the hotel room did not include breakfast and it was expensive (20 Euro each), but we could not face the long walk to the main piazza (only 15 minutes but Ursula and Lionel had run us off our feet in the previous days). We have about $100 in old German marks that we wanted to exchange at a bank, but the only bank in the area that would do it was in another town. We will mail those marks to Ursula and she can turn them in.

Loaded up the car and headed out. It took about 3 ½ hours to drive to Gstaad – most of the way on Autobahn. We did manage to get pulled over by the police and get fined!! For something that I should have known – our car did not have an Autobahn sticker!! We have rented cars in Switzerland many times, and they always have that Autobahn sticker on the windsheild. You do not pay tolls on the Autobahn in Switzerland; instead your car has to have a sticker that costs 40 Euro for a year. The sticker looks like the universal highway sign (a green roadway) with the two-digit year. It is usually on the drivers side. When we picked up the car, I forgot to check that the sticker was there (duh!!). When we were driving I assumed it was in this plastic thing under the rearview mirror – with the parking disc – but it wasn’t.

The police car pulled in front of us and flashed “Stop Bitte” on its rooftop Police sign. Then they pulled onto the wide shoulder, but they did not slow down and stop. They kept driving. We followed. At one point, I think we could not understand what was going on and we pulled back into the lane, but they did and then they pulled over again. After a few miles, there was a pullout and they pulled in there and we pulled in behind them. They got out, checked Steve’s drivers license, the car registration and his International Drivers License. We still didn’t know what was wrong. After trying several languages, Steve and the policeman settled on English and he explained what was wrong. We had to pay a 100 Euro fine (in cash) and 40 Euro for the sticker (in cash). We got a receipt (and I will try to get something back from AutoEurope).

Note for the Switzerland driving section: Always check your car windsheild to be sure you have the Autobahn sticker. I will find out where you can buy them.

Driving Times:
Konstanz – Bern – 2 hours
Bern – Saanen – 1.5 hours

We had arranged to meet the agency person in front of the Saanen train station at 3pm. We were 20 minutes early. Saanen is a very small town and we found Yvonne easily in front of the train station and then we followed her in our car to the vacation rental.

Our apartment is in a chalet with about six apartments in a group of 3 or 4 chalets just on the outskirts of Saanen. It is a 10 minute walk to the train station from our apartment. We are on the ground floor. The apartment is beautiful! It is quite large – 2 bedrooms/2 bathrooms, with a modern kitchen open to the living room and dining room. Wood floors in most of the apartment. A nice outdoor sitting area. Lots of windows. Comfortable furniture, but not overly fussy. Yvonne said they had turned on the heat just that week – it had been down to nearly 0 celcius.

Saanen is a small town with a few shops. Gstaad is 5 minutes away by car and has a large Coop and a Migros (supermarkets) plus several really nice specialty food stores. We drove into Gstaad and got groceries for dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow. We walked around the main pedestrian shopping area in Gstaad and had apple strudel and coffee (sitting inside because it is still cold). Then home to make dinner. I did not even bother to unpack much.

It is Wednesday night as I am writing this. Last night I was going to write my journal when my computer died!! Not the blue screen of death, but the “I am not going to boot up” screen of “you are in trouble girl”. Trouble because I had BIG PLANS for using that computer in the next two weeks. I had spent an hour or two updating the Switzerland section of the SlowTrav web site before the death occurred and I did not lose my work. But instead of writing my journal, I spent the evening copying files from the computer to this cute USB storage device we have (256 mb SanDisk Mini Cruiser) and then copying them from there to Steve’s computer – which we will now have to “share”. Great.

I will post this and then head to bed. Our connection is very slow and we pay Earthlink for each minute used and the landlord for each minute used. Why can’t Earthlink provide a toll free number for access? Earthlink also lists the access number without the leading zero, which you need when dialing in Switzerland. Thanks Earthlink! Luckily we figured this out quickly.
So now I miss my high speed access and my own computer!! (But I am in the Alps and the weather was great today and we went hiking.)


Pauline and her computer troubles.
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Language Whiplash as we drive between cantons (Bern to Vaud)​

Cold, but sunny and clear

As much as we have been looking forward to hiking, we wake up tired and decide to just go for a drive today. We drove from Saanen down the valley to Chateaux d’Oex. Saanen is only a few miles from the border between the cantons Bern and Vaud – but most importantly this is a border between the German speaking area (Bern) and the French speaking (Vaud). It is only 15 minutes or so by car between Saanen and Chateaux d’Oex.

Once you get into the French part of Switzerland it does feel different. The signs are all in French, people speak French to you instead of German, the towns look different – just slightly different. This last thing is probably more to do with the building restrictions of the canton. The towns in Bern are beautiful and perfect looking – perfect wooden chalets, each window with a window box full of flowers, overflowing gardens with big flowers, sunflowers, vegetable gardens. The French towns are also beautiful, but it a bit more rundown way. The French towns seem to sit more in the mountains than in the valley and are perched on the edge of valley walls. The streets are more narrow, the buildings look different. It just feels a bit more lively, a bit less organized.

We walked around Chateaux d’Oex. It is a small town with a pedestrian main shopping area – a few restaurants, a few cafes. We looked for someplace for lunch, but nothing looked that interesting. The stores were all closed (it was past noon) and there were a few people in the restaurants – the town was very quiet. I had read that this town was more built up with more highrises than Gstaad, but this was not so. It is a pretty town – not very big.

We continued our drive over the mountains to Col des Mosses and on to Le Sepey. On the map this is a red, main road – but in reality it is a winding, narrow mountain road. There were not many cars and the driving was easy, but you went high up into the mountains with steep dropoffs beside the road. We stopped in Le Sepey for a late lunch (rosti with fresh mushrooms for me, fish for Steve). Le Sepey is a very small town perched on the edge of a mountain.

We then took what was supposed to be a minor, yellow road back to Gstaad, but this turned out to be an easy road and is the faster way to get to Le Sepey and then onto Aigle and the Autobahn. This road went along the high mountains of this area. There are some mountain rides from here up to the glaciers. At Gsteig you start down a long gentle valley that ends in Gstaad.
That was our big adventure for the day.


Le Sepey


Le Sepey

Hiking on Wispile near Gstaad​

Sunny and warm

Finally, out hiking in the mountains. We went to the tourist office and bought an Easy Access pass. You buy them for three consecutive days, but can then add on extra days. We bought a 5 day pass figuring we would hike all five days, then do a driving day.

We drove to Gstaad, and to the Wispile gondola, just past Gstaad. Free parking at the gondola, which is a nice change from Grindelwald where you paid to park everywhere.

We did not get an early start – it was noon when we arrived at the top of the gondola, so we started by having lunch. On last year’s trip, to Grindelwald and Engelberg, the mountain restaurants were exceptional for lunch (although as a vegetarian I did get tired of rosti or melted cheese sandwiches). But this first restaurant on our Gstaad trip was not great. (All the other ones we have come across have been good – this was just a fluke.) I had a too-cheesy rosti, Steve and plain noodles, we both had water and it came to 50 CHF ($35). But we were sitting outside on the terrace with beautiful sunshine and a lovely view to the big mountains beyond, so it was still fun.

From Wispile you either hike straight back down the mountain (too steep), or hike back into the moutains for an hour and then down one side to the Gsteig valley or the other side to the Launen valley. This first hour of the hike was a gentle up and down hill as we walked back over open meadows with incredible views of the valleys below and the big mountains beyond. There was no one else on the trail.

We chose the Gsteig valley and ended up doing an hour hiking down the hill and destroying our downhill muscles (front of thighs, back of calves and the butt). The hike was beautiful and we walked through farmland and woods. We ended up at Fautersoey on the main road through the Gsteig valley (we reached a trail intersection with one way for Gsteig, the other for Fautersoey, and chose the latter). The bus runs once an hour and we arrived about 10 minutes before it was due.
Or so we thought. I do not wear a watch and Steve only wears one when we travel. It is one of those old Timex watches that you wind and does not keep good time. Turned out we were 20 minutes ahead and could have stopped for the beer that I really wanted after all that sunshine and downhill.

This is how you tell when a bus is about to come in rural Switzerland: people arrive at the bus stop. It was just us for 15 minutes, then 5 minutes before the bus about 8 other people arrived. Some were hikers, some were kids from the village heading to Gstaad with their skateboards.

I hiked wearing jeans and a short sleeved t-shirt and was a bit warm. The next day I switched to lighter cotton pants. On this trip, we brought 1 pair jeans, 1 pair cotton pants, and 2 pairs shorts – figuring we would be in shorts the whole time. Well, on our first hike out, I developed a really ugly heat rash from ankles to knees, thus ruling out shorts for the rest of the trip. This rash always happens to me on longer, hotter hikes – and I always forget about it. It never happens at home, and we do hike there. I think it is something to do with the humidity – I don’t know. One time we went straight home from Switzerland hiking and I had a friend (who is a doctor) look at it (it lasts for several days after a hike) and she pronounced it “heat rash”. It happens hiking in Colorado too. Sometimes in Santa Fe, I get a little bit of the rash. It probably has to do with the time spent hiking. In Santa Fe, we usually hike for 1 – 2 hours. On these hiking vacations we hike for longer.

Our apartment building has a laundry room with washer and dryer – and they are free (so you are not always saving coins for the machines). I did two loads of laundry this week. I packed planning on doing laundry once a week, but certainly could have packed less for this part of the trip.

Our evenings are usually the same. Back from the hike and we flip on CNN for a bit, then take turns on the computer, then I cook a simple dinner (either noodles and vegetables or rice and vegetables), then more computer or TV or reading. Quite pleasant and you are nice and tired after hiking. The apartment is very comfortable.


Gondola to Wispile.


Gondola station at the top.


Views from the trail.


Pauline at the bus stop.
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Hiking on Eggli, near Gstaad​

Sunny and warm

The pain!! Yikes!! I can barely walk. I am not a person who ever notices steps, but I do now! 7 steps to the front door, 7 more to the basement parking garage, steps in Gstaad on the main promenade. Steps everywhere!! My legs hurt all the time, but even more so on steps.

What we needed today was a level hike – what we got was more downhill (blame me for poor map reading). This time we left from the apartment and took the walking trail to Gstaad (45 minutes and flat). This is a lovely trail along the river, through town outskirts and farms. It went straight to the Eggli gondola station, just outside Gstaad. We rode to the top. This time I had packed a lunch (cold noodles and vegetables from last night’s dinner). And this time there was an excellent restaurant at the top of the gondola ride. We stopped and had a bowl of soup. Another time we will have a lunch here.

Note from 2022: The Eggli gondola is no longer open in summer for hiking. To do this hike you have to hike up to the top. The restaurant is probably closed in summer too.

From the restaurant, we walked for about an hour back into the hills. Again, the hiking choice was either go straight downhill to Gstaad (too short a hike and too steep) or hike back into the hills and then take a more gentle down route. You could hike further back into the mountains here on longer trails. We hiked back for about an hour, then sat on the perfect hillside with a perfect view into the Gsteig valley and had our lunch. We could see the parasailers (those guys who jump off the mountain with a parachute and float down to the town) jumping from Wispile.

Then we did another 1 ½ hours of downhill. It was a gentle downhill, but our legs still hurt. There was no one on the trail – except people on bikes. After the first hour, the trail was along a paved, but unused except for the bikes, road – not the best for walking. The valley we walked down was lovely – farms, even a couple of restaurants, houses scattered along the way. We ended up on our street in Saanen.

After the hike we went into Gstaad (drove) and had coffee. We were considering dinner out, but didn’t find anything we wanted, so got some groceries. We located the web cam (on the tourist office) and are going to try for a web cam wave next Wednesday. Chris will be in our house in Santa Fe and she will call me on my Italian cell phone (Wednesday, September 10, 5pm Swiss time, 11am east coast, 9am mountain, 8am west coast). We have our banner with us and Chris will grab a shot. I think it only refreshes every 30 minutes (hour and half hour).

We have not been getting early starts to our days. We still stay up too late at night and then sleep until 9. At least we are sleeping well. And the timing is not that bad – we have a leisurely morning, coffee and toast in the apartment, then head out around 11 or noon.

Under the “more information than you really need” category: When hiking, I always have to nip off into the woods for a pee. It is such a dilemma – I need the coffee in the morning to get me awake and going, then I have to pee several times on the hike. My bladder can sense when I am somewhere not near a restroom. Usually there are restrooms at the gondola rides and on the trails it is easy to find a place to nip off to.


Restaurant at top of Eggli gondola.


View down to Gstaad/Gsteig valley.


Mountains and hiking poles.


Hiking signs along the trail.
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Steve's posting!​

Note: Steve’s first post on the blog!!

A tired “down” day after two days of good hikes. Strolled into Saanen for coffee and kuchen then picked up some groceries (found a good, small natural foods store). At “home”, a lady came and knocked at the French doors on our terrace. She said she saw the Italian license plates on our car and wanted to know if we could change some Euro for her. We explained we were not really Italian, just driving a car licensed in Italy. However, we did have some Euro. We pulled some bills out which she quickly waved away saying those are all the same!

Within a few minutes we understood: the woman was from Holland and wanted to change Dutch Euro coins for Italian ones; the Euro coins are the same on the “amount” side (“tails” side, inverse, I think) for all countries in the Euro zone (“Euroland”) but the “front” (“heads” side, obverse?) has a unique design in each country for each coin denomination.

The lady’s children apparently love collecting the Euro coins of other Euroland countries and the Italian ones are, of course, exceptionally beautiful. We were able to provide about 5 or 6 Euro in various denominations from last year’s trip. We had some German Euro coins from earlier in the trip (our visitor had no interest in those) and now we also have some Dutch Euro coins, the ones we acquired in exchange for our Italian ones.

My notes on pronunciation of the word Euro (in all cases singular and plural are the same words):
In German, you say OY-roh.
In Italian, you say EH-oo-roh.
In French, you say uh-ROH (sort of rhymes with furrow, but with accent on second syllable).

For the coins:
In German, you call them cent – pronounced sent.
In French, you call them cent – pronounced sahnt.
In Italian, you call them centesimi – pronounced chehn-TEH-zee-mee.

We did nothing today​

Overcast, rain on and off

Back to Pauline's posts.

I spent the day transferring my email from Eudora on my non-working computer to Outlook on Steve’s computer – something I had been meaning to do for months (transfer from Eudora which crashes frequently to Outlook, not transfer from my computer to Steve’s).

I am reading Pompeii by Robert Harris – a very good junk read about the days before Vesuvius erupted and the eruption itself (what he thought it would have been like in Pompeii).
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Vacation Rental Review – Apartment Hitismatte, Gstaad (Switzerland)​

Apartment Hitismatte, booked through a local Gstaad agency, Sicking Immobilien (www.sicking.ch).
2bed/2bath ground level apartment

Note from 2022. This apartment is still available to rent. I can't find it on the Sicking website (but they have some good looking rentals) but it is on AirBnb. The price now is 1,855CHF for one week (including the Airbnb fee of 269CHF). In 2003, nearly 20 years ago, the price was 750CHF per week. Airbnb Link

The apartment is in a chalet with six apartments in a complex of a few chalets just outside of Saanen (5 minute walk to train station) in an area of farms and residential houses. The complex is beside a small sawmill/lumber yard, but the apartment is not near it and we did not hear noise from the sawmill. (I was concerned that we were close to a noisy sawmill, but as we travel around this area I realize that lumber must be one of the main businesses here because there are small sawmills everywhere. We have been here several days now and not heard anything from the sawmill.)

The master bedroom is the typical two single beds joined together (with a gap between them) and bathroom with two sinks and a tub/shower (good deep tub, plenty of hot water). Large wardrobe and shelves for your clothes. The second bedroom is two sets of bunk beds and bathroom with shower. So, the setup would be good for a couple or a couple with children, but not for two couples. Large living room / dining room / kitchen area all wood floors (low carpet in bedroom, tile in bathroom). Large entrance way with places for coats and hiking gear, bench to sit on. Outdoor patio with a few chairs. French doors from living room to patio, windows on two sides of living area (very bright) and on two sides of master bedroom (very bright). Views to fields with chalets and mountains beyond (not spectacular views, but very nice views). Bright and sunny and very spacious feeling. A few cats live in the area and drop by to visit.

Good quality and comfortable furnishings. Two large comfy couches, cable TV with CNN, BBC, NBC (and Italian, German, Swiss, and French channels). Bathrooms in good shape, but a touch “70’s-ish”. Great European style bathtub (long, narrow, deep). Excellent kitchen (dishwasher, oven, electric stovetop, coffee maker, electric kettle, microwave, medium size fridge, good pots and pans, lots of plates and utensils).

We have secure parking in an underground garage shared by all the apartments. They even gave us a key to the mail box so we could get our mail (we are only here for two weeks!) and put our name (well, my name, not Steve’s) on the mailbox, the doorbell by the front door of the building and on the buzzer by our apartment door! This was very helpful for finding our way back the second day.

Recommended. This is my favorite kind of vacation rental – it is the second home for the owners so it is well equipped, but you don’t feel like you are moving into someone’s house with no room for your things. It is well setup.

When you stay in Switzerland, at a hotel or a vacation rental, you pay a daily “tourist tax”. Usually you pay the landlord and they pay the tourist office, but this time Yvonne who checked us in said we should go and pay at the tourist office (which seems to make a lot of sense). So we went and declared ourselves and paid 2.80 CHF each per day (14 days, 2 people = 86.80 CHF).


Apartment is on the ground floor of the closest building.


Bright living room/dining room/kitchen.
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Notes about Saanenland​

Motto for Gstaad: Come Up – Slow Down
Symbol for Saanen: A goat
Written phrase you see as you leave town or exit the mountain rides: See You
Languages spoken: German, French, English – in that order usually. We have heard many people speaking French. Menus are in German and French (sometimes with English).

Gstaad, Saanen and Schonried are three towns in a large valley surrounded by big ski hills, with huge mountains behind. I think the town Zweisimmen is also included in Saanenland, but it is down a valley towards Thun. The valley opens up at Schonried.

I thought Gstaad might be a larger town and busy, so booked in Saanen instead, but Gstaad is a sleepy resort. It would have been fine to stay there. Saanen is smaller and is only 40 minutes walk or 5 minute drive from Gstaad.

Note from 2022: Saanen is no longer sleepy, much has changed. The main streets are pedestrian now with a large underground car park. There are many new chalet apartment buildings. And it is more expensive.

In this immediate area there are five different gondolas up to hiking areas – Wispile and Eggli near Gstaad (Eggli now closed in summer); Horneggli and Rellerli near Schonried (Rellerli now closed in summer); Rinderberg near Zweisimmen. You can purchase an “Easy Access” card at the tourist office for 3 days for 28.50 CHF. This allows you on all gondolas plus the train between the towns and some buses. Buses go up two valley from Gstaad (Gsteig and Lauenen) and one near Zweisimmen (Sparenmoos).

The hiking is different here than in other Swiss mountain towns we have stayed in. In Grindelwald, for example, most of the mountain rides leave from town so you start out and end up in town. Also the mountains are bigger, so you can do hikes across the top, middle or bottom of the mountains. Here the mountains are lower and do not go up to alpine areas, so the gondola rides are shorter and you end up hiking down from the mountain, instead of across. There are some hikes that go across at alpine level, but you end up in another town and then bus or train back to your start.

We have only hiked twice so far, so I can’t completely judge. So far the hikes have not been as well signed as in other areas we have hiked. But they are well enough signed and the towns are great here.

Note from 2022: Two of the Gstaad/Saanen gondolas have closed for the summer - Wispile from Gstaad and Rellerli from Schonried. But the hiking is still very good in this area and the Access Card makes it much more affordable than places like Grindelwald.


When you could drive and park on the main street in Saanen.


We liked this tea room.

Hey, Everyone Smokes (or so it seems)​

One thing we have noticed from the beginning is how everyone smokes (or so it seems). People smoking in restaurants, in cafes. Cafes with an ashtray on every table. It is shocking being in restaurants that are filled with smoke. Luckily you can sit outside in most places.

Note from 2022: This has changed!

A Few Notes about Slow Talk​

I am having several forums emailed to me each day and it is fun to read the posts, but frustrating to not be able to reply. It is just too expensive and too slow to go online here. We found a few internet cafes in town, but have not tried them yet – and probably won’t use them much. As long as I can do my email on the computer in the apartment, that is good enough.

A past member of the message board is posting on About.com about our message board saying how we are not the experts we claim to be (and he likes to refer to me with my full name so everyone will know who he is talking about – he has not included my phone number – yet). You know, we never claimed to be experts on Italy. In fact, Slow Travelers is about vacation rentals – it is not a general travel information oriented web site. On the site, I recommend my favorite guidebooks for real information on different countries.

Slow Travelers is about how to find and book vacation rentals, and that is the focus of the message board too. It is great to have other topics come up, and we can all discuss these things together, but if there is anything the moderators are “experts” on it is finding and booking vacation rentals. Each moderator was selected because this is how they travel. The moderators role is not to be the “expert” but to point people to the web site when questions are answered there and to generally help people find answers.

No we are not sophisticated world travelers – staying in vacation rentals is sometimes just one step up from camping. I have not been to that many countries. I haven’t even seen much of Italy. But I have stayed in many vacation rentals and I do know how to find and book vacation rentals and what you can expect from them. As I have said repeatedly, many of our regulars have way better travel information than we moderators do.

Note from 2022: Still not a sophisticated traveler but I have added two new countries in the past 20 years (Portugal, Israel) and I've seen more of Italy. In 2003 SlowTrav was still my hobby site, if I remember right. I was doing websites for other people for my income.

Hiking from Horneggli to Rinderberg​

Overcast and warm

We slept late again. I am giving up on the idea of long hiking days here and giving in to catching up on a year of missed sleep and hiking in the afternoons. Today we drove the car to the next town over – Schonried – and parked at the Horneggli gondola. Again, free parking. Things are much less crowded and more casual here than in Grindelwald. There are never lines for the mountain rides here, or anywhere in Switzerland that we have been. The only time we ever saw a long line for a gondola was 15 years ago in France – Chamonix.

The mountain rides are pretty short here. For example, the Horneggli goes from 1230 meters to 1770 meters. This was a chairlift with a plastic bubble cover to protect you from the elements. The ride was lovely, up over pastures and woods with great views of the area. We were not sure what we were going to do today – I had thought maybe we would do a 2 hour hike back down to Saaenmoser, the next town from Schonried, and then walk back. We looked at the trail signs and realized we could easily do a high level walk from the top of this mountain ride to the top of the Rinderberg gondola from Zweisimmen, a town about 15 minutes drive from Schonreid.

What a great hike! We saw more people on the trail today than we had seen all week. I think because it was Saturday and people from all over Switzerland come up into the mountains at the weekend. At the top of the Horneggli chairlift is a restaurant, but we weren’t hungry, so we hit the trail. Did a gentle uphill for 30 minutes and came to a group of houses and restaurants which you must be able to drive to (there were cars parked). This would be the place to go for a nice lunch in the mountains. There were about five restaurants.

In a big field a group of Swiss guys were playing some type of game. One guy bats and then there is a row of guys with these huge paddles that they throw up to block the ball. They are spread out in a field the size of a football field. Nothing much happened. Someone batted the ball, someone threw up their paddle and hit it, they all walked off the field.

From this area we walked for an hour along what we call a “pony trail” – level dirt roadway. Easy walking, which was just what we needed – exercise, but not downhill. We passed lots of people. Some in full hiking gear like us (boots, poles, packs), some very nicely dressed, casual jackets, loafers, smoking (these, I assumed, were French hikers).

After an hour, the trail goes uphill along a ridge for another hour. Uphill walking was a relief after the pain of downhill the days before. 10 minutes before we got to the other gondola, we were on top of a hill where it felt like the top of the world. We could see the Lenk valley below, back to the Gstaad valley where we had started the hike, across to huge moutains in the direction of Bern I think and towards the Grindelwald mountains (I think we saw the Jungfrau). The only downside to this hike, was the intense smell of cow s**t for part of the hike – but what can you expect when walking through farm fields?

The hike from one mountain ride to the other was about 2 ½ hours, then we took the gondola down to Zweisimmen. This was a long gondola, more like the ones in Grindelwald. We arrived at the bottom, a couple of blocks from the train station, 4 minutes before the next train. We didn’t make it. The train runs sort of every hour (sometimes in 50 minutes, sometimes in 1 ½ hours). The next one was in 50 minutes. It started to rain, so we put on our rain jackets and found a tea room. I had my requisite hot chocolate for the trip, Steve had coffee and we both had cake – well earned after the last hour of uphill on the hike.

Took the train back to Schonreid. Our Easy Access pass covered both mountain rides and the train. On the train we just showed the pass. The train was very comfortable – padded seats with lots of room (this was a second class car). They came around and offered drinks and snacks from a menu. We almost got off at the wrong station, but someone screamed out to the conductor for us and we found out where we were and we hoped back on the train. This area is full of gondolas and chairlifts, but only about ¼ of them are open for summer hiking. From the train I saw a chairlift with the same name as the one we took, so I assumed the next station was ours. Turns out several of the chairlifts have the same name because they go up to the same place and the next stop wasn’t ours. But the one after was (which I would have known if I had consulted my schedule).

We drove into Gstaad and had an early dinner of pizza – not great, but not too bad. An Italian pizza chef and a wood burning oven, but the crust just was not as good as you get in Italy. Still, beer and pizza was a fun end to the day – our first dinner out in Gstaad.


Hiking signs at Hornberg.


The easy trail from Hornberg.


View towards the Lenk hiking area.


Steve on the trail.


Gondola at Rinderberg with Zweisimmen below.

Sorry, I only speak English​

I feel literally tongue-tied here. I never get to speak (so, instead, I blog). The sentence I say most often is “Do you speak English?”. Steve just starts speaking in French (many people speak French in this area), then switches to German if he gets a blank stare. If we are in a café and Steve has been speaking to the waitress, then he leaves me to pay the bill, the waitress starts speaking to me and all I can say is “Sorry, I only speak English.” Sometimes they switch to English. Luckily I can read numbers, so I am able to pay the bill.

Why I love the Germans​

  • Because they come in fat, regular and slim sizes, just like us Americans.
  • Because they wear blue jeans, all the time.
  • Because they wear running shoes.
  • Because their new literature is really good.
  • Because they are very prominent in the environmental movement.
  • Because people ride bikes as transportation.
  • Because they have bike paths and walking trails every where.
When we were to meet our friends in Konstanz, I was debating whether or not to wear our running shoes and finally decided to wear them because we figured we would do a lot of walking. We met them and they were both wearing running shoes. Ursula was even wearing shorts. (Our joke is that you can always tell when an American is on vacation – he is wearing shorts! I find the longer I live in the US, the more I like wearing shorts – especially on vacation!)

Switzerland is the place to go to avoid tourists​

The Swiss mountain towns are full of tourists, but they are European tourists. We have seen other North Americans maybe twice in a week. Grindelwald and Zermatt are popular with Americans, but the rest of the mountain towns are touristed by other Swiss, Germans and Brits. Now I have nothing against North American tourists – I love running into other Americans in Europe and always strike up a conversation if I can – but it really is fun to be somewhere with no other Americans.

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