Yes ji, the country is not Swiss, its called Switzerland and trust me people do not like it when you mention it the wrong way! It is that time of the year when plenty of my fellow Indians and of course other citizens of the world would be in the process of planning their trip to this Alpine country. Thus I also decided to give my two bits, and also offer my help to those who need some tips about visiting Switzerland.
What qualifies me to give you tips on traveling to Switzerland?
Oh Hello! In case you didn’t notice I am the destination expert because I live at the destination (at least for now!).
Ok my apologies, so where do I set my base in Switzerland?
Hmm..now we are talking. For most folks from the sub-continent the trip center is usually Luzern/Lucerne. This is a good central place to stay specially because it is well connected to most other tourist destinations. However, do bear in mind that staying in Luzern probably means that you will be focusing only on some parts of the country.
Hmm…and how long should my trip be? And When?
I wish there was a simple answer to that. Almost two years here, and I am yet to cover it all! A fair answer would be that you should plan a trip atleast 4 days long. If you are a skiing lover, winter months are your choice. If you want to visit Switzerland in all its glory, then nothing beats late spring-summer from May to July (even August).
What about Local transport? What about the Mountain railways?
Should you purchase the Swiss Pass; then your local travel is included in the ticket system. It is indeed worth investing specially when you plan a short trip with lots of travel in it. Make sure you check their website in time, there are often good offers around. If your trip to Switzerland is a part of a larger Europe trip, then you may also opt for Eurail passes. However, I am not expert in that, but am sure it will result in considerable savings. Also, traveling 2nd class will make no big difference, the 2nd class seats are quite good and comfortable.
Mountain railways are a different question, Glacier express, Golden Pass, Chocolate express, Bernina express…well the Swiss have been experts and there is no beating them in a world class railway system. These train journeys are indeed beautiful, but for someone like me these get boring as well. Purely upto you if they enthuse you.
Where do I stay? How do I move around?
The best answer to this question is that if you are staying in a town like Luzern, Berne, Zurich, Geneva or Basel then the location of your hotel may make little difference, thanks to the extremely well connected and punctual system of trains/trams/buses. You can save a bit of cash on this, specially when hotels are expensive.
In case hotels do not make the cut for you, you could try for holiday rental apartments from websites like http://www.interhome.ch
For checking your local train connections, the only go-to website will be SBB home page of the Swiss National Railways. Better still install their smartphone app.
I am a vegetarian, help me! OR Where do I find Indian food?
I assume this is one of the critical challenges which plenty of Indian travelers face due to their diet preferences. However, this problem is partially solved if you are traveling in a group, as many tour operators in high season provision for this. In fact, lake boat rides in Interlaken region even include Indian buffets in summers. Here are a few general tips here:
- There are Indian groceries in big towns, you can find namkeen, instant noodles and other staples but at 4-5 times the Indian price
- Smokers beware, cigarettes are expensive. Not sure of the price as I never cared.
- Buying drinking water, chips and other snacks on the go are always more expensive if bought from Kiosks, Train pantry cars and cafes. Instead stock these from your nearest Migros, Coop or Denner.
- There are plenty of Indian restaurants, but eating out is expensive so bear in mind. Do check TripAdvisor for this search. However, I do recommend the vada pav stall at the base of Titlis.
- McDonald’s and Burger King do offer veggie burgers.
- There is no KFC or Pizza hut in Switzerland.
- Gipfeli/Croissant is a very common snack, and is available almost everywhere.
How do I call home to India? Is it very expensive?
Well, the simplest option is to buy a local SIM card. There are plenty of brands like Lebara, Yallo, or Lyca Mobile which offer very cheap mobile calls from Switzerland to India. All you need is a passport to buy the connection, which is normally available at most Kiosk stores.
Wait I have more questions!
Ok fair enough, why don’t you post your comments on this blog post and I shall try my best to answer them. Till then Tschüss!