It is the best time of the year, Easter weekend! For most people, it’s a long weekend giving us the Friday-Monday off work or school allowing you to go on holiday without having to take any time off. Generally, this can be an expensive time to go away as flight or hotel prices are hiked up to their peak, however if you are smart and plan early you can get an early booking discount.
Switzerland is a country I am automatically drawn to and very luckily spent a few childhood holidays here. My grandmother was from Switzerland and we got to experience the beautiful country where she spent her childhood. I haven’t been back since I was 9 years old and decided that this Easter I want to re visit it through my adult (albeit still immature) eyes.
The next decision was where in Switzerland do we go? Well, I waited for an extremely fantastic seat sale to release on British Airways, checked prices for Geneva and Zurich, the winner in price is Zurich. In fact, as I have booked this so far in advance, club Europe was only a little bit more than economy (it is always worth checking this during a seat sale or flight promotion) so I have decided to treat myself. For an Easter break, I wasn’t expecting such a great deal, there are last minute deals to be had with some destinations (mainly beach holidays) and you can wait till closer to the time to book, although I have found city breaks during a peak season can sell out quickly, booking in advance will be financially beneficial.
With flights booked I started to shop around for a hotel that is both reasonably priced as well as centrally located. I found a hotel which is only a 10-minute train journey from the airport and still only five minutes by tram to the city centre. After much research and shopping around I have booked the Swissotel for 3 nights.
The choice of destination is not a sun worshipping trip, especially in March, it will be cold, perhaps even snowing, but this will not hinder my trip in anyway. The Swiss Alps will be a beautiful backdrop for my short city break and I have found a few day trips to the mountains that I can take whilst I am there. Researching the tours in Zurich I’m starting to get an understanding of the costs in Switzerland, the bargain price I have paid to get there is great but I know that it will be expensive when I am there.
Good Friday is upon us and I am all set for my Swiss adventure, the choice to go Switzerland is a popular one with my family who have decided to join me. So, myself, my travel companion Dipali along with our mothers are making our way to the airport. We are on the first flight out which does mean leaving home at ‘silly o clock’ or for most people this is called 4am. Through my tired squinting eyes, I notice that it is still dark outside, I start to question my decision to book the earliest possible flight. At the time, booking this time meant we have longer in Zurich, now that the early start is here and I’m staring at my bed thinking, “I wish I was still asleep” the regret is setting in.
The bonus of leaving early is that we don’t have any traffic en route, so we are at the airport in no time. With our bags all dropped in we excitedly make our way to the BA Club Lounge, this is an exciting first for me as I usually travel in economy so have never had the chance to try out the airline lounge, this gives a wonderful start to your holiday. After a light breakfast, we are boarding our flight. As soon as we are settled in the air hostess comes through offering a choice of orange juice or champagne, now I know it is only 7 in the morning but I have heard champagne breakfasts are good for you (I haven’t really heard that, in truth this is something I have told myself and started to believe).
After a short 1 hour and 45-minute flight we are touching down into Zurich. The local transport is very easy to navigate and the train station is downstairs from the main airport. You can purchase your tickets to the city centre from many machines located around the airport, there are a lot of train staff around if you are unsure which tickets to purchase.
We locate our train and are pulling into our station within ten minutes, the walk to the hotel is very quick as it is positioned across the road from the station. We also pass a couple of supermarkets near the hotel which will be useful to stock up on water or snacks. It’s always a good idea to find local stores to save money on your essentials.
Our hotel is in a great position and I am really pleased with the choice. My first impression so far is good, the staff are extremely friendly and ready to help you with any arrangements, the hotel is modern and there is a trendy bar located in the lobby. The hotel has a swimming pool located on the upper floors offering you stunning views of the Alps while you swim. Once we are shown to our room we take in the view which again has distant views of the mountain, it is slightly overcast so the view is a bit limited today.
There is no time to waste, so we all meet up after a short rest and decide to stay close and explore the local surrounding. The area seems very quiet and not many people around, as we walk on we notice that a lot of the shops are closed. It becomes apparent that Good Friday is a very quiet day and not too much to do. The first day is quite uneventful so we check with the hotel concierge if Saturday will be open for business as usual otherwise this could be a very quiet weekend away. Luckily Saturday is a normal day so we plan to get a tram to the city centre and spend the day in Zurich.
The next day is already very different to the quiet Friday. There is a local market within a few minutes from the hotel and there are a lot more people out today. Finally, we explore the local area and then jump on a train into the centre. We took the train near our hotel to a trendy part of the city called Bahnhofstrasse which seems to be a main hub for switching trains on to other parts of Switzerland.
The centre of Zurich is a beautiful, there is a mixture of historical architecture along with a modern shopping district. It turns out, that like my mother, Dipali’s mum is a shopaholic too! We have made the mistake of walking near to the shopping district and find both our mothers heading towards the stores in an Olympic style sprint. Luck is on our side in regard to the weather, it is a beautiful sunny day. Whilst the shoppers have disappeared into the retail jungle, I decide to grab a few pictures of my beautiful surroundings. Before we left for Zurich my dad remembered his childhood spent in Zurich with his Grandmother (my Great Grandma), I tried to find out as much information about her before I left as I am heavily trying to trace my family roots. He remembered that she lived in an area of Zurich called Wolishofen and they used to have to get a tram from the city centre. Within a few seconds of me taking pictures I see a tram heading towards me at full speed, it is a number 7 tram heading to Wolishofen, I become so excited by this and decide to step into the road and get a close-up picture (clearly not concerned about the fact the tram could kill me). I get my picture and move out the way in time however I still have a very agitated driver staring at me, I give him an awkward smile and move on.
Thankfully the shoppers have finished and we head to one of the supermarkets to stock up on one of the things Switzerland is very well known for, CHOCOLATE! My Grandmother always brought us a selection of Switzerland’s finest chocolates. As we enter the supermarket and locate the aisle dedicated to all kinds of biscuits or sweet treats I find a few of the chocolate bars that she would bring for us, Frigor is the brand we used to have and I am surprised that it still exists and has the same packaging! I feel nostalgic as this brings me back to my childhood, I stand clutching the chocolate bar and it occurs to me how much I miss her, this little bar of chocolate reminds me of what a wonderful woman and Grandmother she was. I eventually snap out of my little moment only to find a lady looking at me oddly, this is because I am stood in a supermarket aisle embracing a chocolate bar, she looks like she is unsure whether to comfort me or run. I decide to stay cool and stock my basket with as many chocolates as I can carry (who knows when we will return).
Much of the Saturday remains uneventful, before we stepped out we spoke to the hotel reception who advised that the Sunday in Zurich will again be quiet due to the Easter holidays and therefore all shops will be mainly closed. To not waste the day, we decide to book a tour to visit Jungfrau, main peak of the Bernese Alps. The tour makes up a great full day and whilst tours are not cheap (Approx. GBP £230 or USD $276) it does give you a great look at the real Switzerland. You can book this tour online with various tour operators or locally with your hotels assistance which is what we have opted for.
Jungfrau in the summer will have many hiking routes, this can be done in the winter but you would more than likely need to be relatively mountain skilled for snow climbs. The tour however can be booked year around as there is no heavy hiking involved.
Sunday morning, we have a very quick breakfast and meet in the lobby for our tour to begin. We are going by coach on beautiful and very scenic journey which takes about two hours but with a couple of stops on the way. We set off towards Lucerne where we are collecting a few more passengers. The drive from here passes Lake Lucerne which already has the beautiful back drop of mountains behind the lake. It is a perfect picture you are surrounded by natural beauty and traditional Swiss country side. The tour stops here for a quick photo opportunity before continuing towards Interlaken where there will be another short break, we pass through the Bernese Oberland and finally reach our last stop off point. The change from Zurich to Interlaken is dramatic. You’re not surrounded by high rise buildings and supermarkets, you have snow-capped mountains and low wooden houses that look like ski chalets. The remainder of the journey climbs higher and more chalets appear, we finish our journey in Grindelwald where our group splits, some of our group is spending a night in Grindelwald and then taking a train back into Zurich. I think to myself that I should have done this to experience a night in the Swiss country side. The area has taken me back to my childhood once more as it reminds me of the part of Switzerland we would visit as children called Erlach. My Grandmother had a very good friend called Anna Marie, they lived in the country side like this with a beautiful traditional Swiss chalet style house. We would all take a family trip and stay with Anna Marie; the house was very close to a lake and we would have the freedom to run around and explore and let our childish imaginations run wild in the beautiful setting around us.
With our group split the rest of us are catching a cog wheel train via Kleine Scheidegg. This will be the most amazing train you will ever take leading you to the highest railway station in Europe (also known as the top of Europe). Jungfrau station stands at 3454m (11,332ft), the train takes a slow and steady climb passing the keen skiers. After climbing with the mountains in view around you, the journey then heads inside the mountain climbing higher and higher while your ears pop away like the exploding candy you may have eaten as a child with the change in altitude. Finally, we have made it to the top of Europe!
Once you reach the top there is the Sphinx observation deck which allows you to step outside and view your surroundings at over 11,000ft. It is very rare to be this high up so this is the first place we visit. Make sure you have every single layer you own before you step outside, especially in March which is still a ski season. I felt like I stepped into a freezer with strong icy winds. It is comical watching everyone’s hats and hair blowing while they attempt to steady their camera for a picture, once your camera is steady the pictures will be limited as the white blankets of snow along with the heavy hazy clouds blocks a lot of your clear viewing. This doesn’t put us off, it is cold but it is beautiful and peaceful, there is something really exhilarating about being this high up and I would stay here for as long as I could before the cold starts to destroy my body. Eventually we give in to the weather and run for the warmth.
After we leave the observation deck we head to the Ice Palace which has a tunnel of ice sculptures, if you follow this tour around you will end up near the finest chocolate store that is known around the world and that’s the Lindt store. After spending a couple of hours, there is time to eat in the cafes or look around the souvenir shops before heading on the cog wheel back down to a station called Lauterbrunen. Your coach will be waiting to take you back to Lucerne and Zurich from here.
The tour was in my opinion a fantastic day out and whilst this journey can be made independently on trains from Zurich this would make it a longer day. I would still recommend taking the trip on train but perhaps break it up by spending a night in Interlaken or Grindelwald. The option we chose worked for us as we had our family with us so wanted an easy and less strenuous journey. The tour may seem like a costly option but Switzerland is quite an expensive country, when you add up the tour, the guide along with the entrance and train tickets it is actually good value.
There is a lot to see in Switzerland and I want to return, spending time in another city combined with the country side and alps. The little break to Zurich has been an eye opener and a trip down memory lane, in a weird way it has also allowed me to feel connected with my Grandmother. I now know that if I take a trip to Switzerland again, this will be another opportunity for me to feel like she is with me again.