Thursday, January 23, 2014

New Year Travel Log: Part One

Switzerland


Snow. Mounds on freshly fallen snow, as far as the eye could see, atop a mountain 10,000 ft above sea level. It marked the first day of my life where I saw real snow, and wow did I pick the most beautiful place for it to happen!

But maybe I should rewind back a little and start from the beginning.
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Day One:

I rang in my New Year whilst on a train to the airport. As depressing as it sounds, it actually wasn't that bad, because I had good company with me, and we were lucky enough to glimpse some fireworks at not too far a distance when the clock struck 12.

I had friends who didn't manage to get in to see the London Eye fireworks, because apparently security closed off the entrances fairly early. So I guess even if I was planning for a London countdown, it might not have been all that great. Public countdowns and all the smelly (if it wasn't winter), spitting people who always manage to step on my shoes have never been my favourite thing anyway.

We had a flight to Zurich at 6.50am, New Years Day. For obvious reasons, it was ridiculously cheap to travel at such an hour, though public transport to the airport would've cost a bomb, hence why we opted to take the latest possible train there and spend a night at the airport to save costs.

I couldn't catch a wink of sleep at the airport though.

There were two ladies who bought bottles of (presumably cheap) champagne, and were offering them out to strangers, seeing as everyone was miserably stuck at the airport instead of partying it up. They started out being just excited, but as the night wore on, they became increasingly loud and drunk. And loud. Did I mention loud?

So yeah, not exactly a good start to the New Year. And it gets much worse.

For some reason, which in hindsight I really cannot fathom, all six of us going on the trip brought one trolley case and one backpack, and one handbag of course for all the girls. Which means that between our group of four girls and two guys, we had 16 pieces of hand luggage, which we had to find some way to compress into 6 pieces, as Easyjet only allowed one hand luggage apiece, with no allowance for personal items, meaning even our handbags had to be squished into our luggage.

It was a freaking disaster. We were on the airport floor for what felt like ages, cramming and stuffing as much as humanly possible. But it was a doomed mission from the beginning, and we ended up having to check in 3 items, at 45 freaking quid apiece(!!) We were also the last freaking people on the plane, and during our frantic stuffing moments I kept worrying that the plane would leave without us.

So basically, my New Year morning had gone horribly. In my sleepless state, I was horribly missing my parents, especially my dad, who'd know exactly what to do in such a situation. Or more likely, he wouldn't be in such a silly situation from the beginning. What in the world possessed us all to think we could legitimately bring so much stuff aboard anyway?


And then we reached Switzerland. Once we were safely there, all the stress and fatigue just melted away. All I wanted to do was get out and explore!

Our plan for Day 1 was to visit Bern, the capital of Switzerland (not Zurich, mind you). But once we got there via train, we realised that there was no locker area to store our luggage, meaning that we had to lug all our stuff around with us. We were also really blurry and disorientated and hungry, and had no idea how to get anywhere.

The solution? Find some place with food and wifi. God bless good ol' Starbucks.



My first meal in Switzerland was some chicken and cheese sandwich, along with an Americano. It was bland and semi-filling and expensive. I would've loved a muffin instead, but I felt something more substantial would be needed for the day ahead.

I should've realised there and then that my meals were doomed, because there was noone there who would've split a muffin with me. Sigh.


Caught in the act of drawing on my brows before heading out. The only bit of make up I feel is necessary to look decent in a photo!

We were pretty pressed for time, because we needed to get to our hotel in Interlaken to check in by 6, so we needed to get going in just a few hours. The plan was to visit the Bear Park and the Rosengarten, but a quick check on Trip Advisor told us that the bears were already hibernating, so off to the rose gardens we went!

Umm, it was a pretty sorry sight. The rose gardens were really small, and there wasn't a single flower to be seen. Guess it was too cold for the roses.


The view from the rose gardens was just alright; nothing particularly breathtaking and mostly obscured by trees. Supposedly you could get a good view of Old Town Bern from here, but I think you get a much better view from just taking the bus. The only thing that kept us sitting on that wall was that it was ridiculously sunny, the likes of which England hadn't seen in a while. I suddenly understand why Europeans like sunbathing now!

There was absolutely nothing to do there though, and after we got bored, Natalie the yoga enthusiast decided we should make use of the wide spaces to do yoga/gymnastics poses, which shall henceforth be known as "YOLO time". 

I feel that I should mention that I did not start the YOLO references, and this trip was probably where I said YOLO more times in my life. Please slap me if you ever catch me using that term ever again though.

The result:


It should be noted that I hadn't done a bridge in years, nor have I ever lifted my leg that way before. I was pretty proud of my retained flexibility from years of dance classes.

We spent quite a bit of time with the coordinating and photo-taking, attracting quite a lot of attention in the process. Imagine going to a tourist attraction in a European country and seeing a bunch of Asians act like amateur cheerleaders. 

But, it was fun! I got swept up in everyone's excitement, and was too far from anyone I know to feel self-conscious anyway. 

And umm, that's it for Bern. Just one single tourist attraction visited. In hindsight, it may have been a better idea to check out the old town and the Parliament buildings and the like, but no big regrets, because we perhaps got a little too much of that in Spain, as you will soon see.


This was the view from the train. It was so insanely beautiful all I could do was sigh in rapture everytime the train turned a corner. Imagine looking at this every time you take public transportation! 

Okay to be fair, the view gets old when train stations are 20 minutes apart and you just wanna get there as fast as possible without all the unspoiled beauty of snow-capped mountains and shimmering lakes as far as the eye can see. 


It was already dark when we reached our rented apartment. We rested up a bit and thought we'd go check out the many stalls at the night market we saw on the way over. 

But alas, today really just wasn't our day. We came out only to find throngs of people moving in the opposite direction; apparently we'd just missed a fireworks show. We did hear it, but didn't know it was coming from the town square. And of course, practically all the stalls we saw earlier were closed, but I did manage to grab a bratwurst. Wasn't very good though, more filler than meat; not anything like the German standard I assumed we'd find here.

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Day Two: 

We had to make a really early start, because it was a 3 hour journey to Engelberg, where we'd take the cable car up Mount Titlis. Was happily snoozing away the whole time.

Once we got down from the train and I stepped on snow for the first time in my life, it was insanely surreal. It felt like I was dreaming, and it helped that Engelberg was such a picturesque town.


This was the view from our cable car. Look at all the perfect little wooden houses! 

As you may be able to tell though, the weather was not on our side. It was grey and gloomy, and very windy. Imagine having heavy snow relentlessly blowing in your face at 57 miles per hour. You can't see very well ahead of you, and there's always a danger that the snow in front is deeper than you think.


It did give our pictures a nice effect though! This was the best photo I could find where noone's hair was being blown all over the place by the relentless wind. We also looked deceptively happy, or at least I did anyway. I remember feeling so frozen, especially my toes, that all I could think of was getting the phototaking over with so I could go inside and warm up. I was so terrified thinking that my toes could turn blue.


This one's a bit more realistic. The suspension bridge was actually atop a deep gorge, and under normal circumstances I would've been thoroughly terrified, but the snow just blanketed everything so all anyone could see anywhere was white stuff.

It wasn't the best way to experience snow for the first time, given it was so extreme and all, but it was definitely one of the most memorable sensations of my life; being so cold everything became numb and painful. 


So we went in and had ice cream! Specifically, ice cream from the Swiss brand Movenpick. Because when it's 15 degrees below freezing, of course you'd go for ice cream!

It was yummy and creamy and the sugar rush helped perk us up. But the absolute best part was what happened whilst we were halfway through our treat.


The sun came out to play!

It was nothing short of a God-given miracle! The winds just stopped and the clouds parted; suddenly the snow became dazzling and inviting again! 



A mini YOLO moment and the mandatory snow angel picture!

Suddenly the area was full of people just laughing and playing and taking pictures with the breathtaking scenery...it was so magical. Something about the snow just made everybody seem more playful and childlike!


My favourite group picture. 

I was pretty sad though, because my toes kept freezing up and I kept having to go back in to defrost for awhile before coming out again. I thought I had abnormal sensitivity to cold, but it turned out it was because my socks had gotten wet, and there weren't any blowdryers in the washroom to help me out.

After having our fill of phototaking, we headed halfway down the mountain to the snow park for some free sledding!


We were literally on tiny plastic surfaces going down a 60 ft incline also open to skiers and snowboarders, with only our legs to steer us and no way of stopping. Once your leg touches the ground though, it sends up a spray of snow that hits you strongly in the face.

But again, it was fun! It was like going down a long water slide at the theme park, but much more exhilarating.


I even went on a two person sled! Which is more fun for the person at the back because snow doesn't hit you in the face. Yay!

(I don't know why I feel there is a need here to disclaim that I am not the type of person that uses peace signs in pictures, but for some reason on this trip it just kept happening. Don't judge me.)

After that, it was time to make the long journey back to Interlaken. So we waved bye bye to our beautiful winter wonderland.


This was one of the stalls I saw on our first night; it was literally plain bread, with oodles of melted cheese from that giant cheese wheel, topped with generous amounts of cinnamon. I wanted to go back and try it out that night, but it was just too late when we got home.

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Day Three:

Today was Zurich day, and also really exciting because it was Eat Out Day!

With the cost of living in Switzerland being as it is, and because we were on a (overly) tight budget, our meals had been really simple stuff. For Day One and Two, the only food I paid for was one-third of a bratwurst and one ham sandwich.


This was the stuff I brought along for the trip, the idea being I'd have the biscuits or cereal bar for breakfast or a midday snack, eat out for lunch, and the instant porridge for dinner, with hot chocolate for dessert. Because we were being that frugal.

I ended up barely eating anything from my stash in Switzerland. Surprisingly, I didn't have much of an appetite for any of the days, possibly because the food wasn't particularly appetizing.


These were local pastries I picked up from the supermarket, simply because I'm a sucker for all things dairy and wanted to try out as much local food as possible. These would come to last me all the way till Madrid!

But I digress.


After doing a little research, it seemed Swiss Chuchi at Hotel Adler would be the best place for our one meal out. The place got glowing reviews online, and was conveniently located in the old town of Zurich anyway.


What's a Swiss meal without a cheese fondue?

The traditional cheese fondue had 4 types of cheese and wine. It came on a bubbling little stove, with enough bread cubes to feed a small family, considering it was a single portion.


You're probably thinking "Mmm, look at that ooey-gooey yummy cheesy goodness!". But guess what, it sucked.

I thought a cheese fondue would be rich and decadent and well, cheesy. This one had a strong wine taste, with just a hint of cheesy aftertaste. It was nothing like the melted cheese we're used to having over pasta, so it was a huge letdown. 


We also got another German sausage with rosti on the waiter's recommendation. Again, quite a big letdown.


Alpermagronen, or Swiss mac 'n cheese, served with applesauce on the side. I honestly really enjoyed this! The fried onions helped bring out the cheese taste, which again wasn't particularly strong, and the applesauce added an interesting dimension to the dish.


Last but not least, we had a raclette with pork something. Basically, it was a self-grill where you put your ingredients on the top of the grill, and your square piece of raclette cheese in the pan at the bottom.


So it would look something like this. 

The raclette cheese thankfully actually tasted like cheese, though a little mild; I personally still prefer the stronger tastes of cheddar and mozzarella. The set also didn't come with much ingredients, but it did come with an entire sack of baby potatoes.

So basically, our entire meal was carbs (loads of potato and bread, and macaroni) and cheese. I shudder now just thinking about it. Swiss food just turned out to be so bland and simple and unimpressive. No regrets at all that we didn't spend much on food here.

And then it was time to take in the local sights!


There was a large canal in the middle of the old town, and it was so clean you could clearly see the bottom. 


We basically just walked around town, and ended up visiting two cathedrals, and also Banhofstrasse, which is the Oxford Street of Zurich.


I absolutely loved the Church of Our Lady (Fraumunster). Don't let it's unassuming appearance fool you! It's famous for its stained glass windows by Marc Chagall. Go google it! Probably the most beautiful stained glass windows I've seen in my life, and it was an amazing spiritual experience to view them up close.


The view from atop the canal bridge. You can even see the Swiss Alps in the distance! Switzerland literally has the most unspoiled environment I've ever seen. All the time I was there, I didn't see a single skyscraper; the tallest things were either clock towers or church spires.

I believe its the most beautiful country in the world. Unfortunately, it might also be the most uninteresting in terms of food and attractions. And of course its one of the most expensive. But definitely a lovely, rustic place for a relaxing New Year getaway!


Amidst all the Swiss beauty, here's a picture of a dog pooping on the street. Teehee.
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And that wraps it up for my Switzerland experience! Now on to sunny Spain and food extravaganzas!

Stay tuned!

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