Switzerland on a Shoestring

MountainwithRanches
Despite being geographically situated among the European Union (EU) countries, Switzerland is the only European country that is independent of the supranational organisation. For this reason, they continue to use their own currency (Francs) and enjoy a very stable currency.

Besides that, Switzerland is also a place renowned for their incredible scenery, beautiful mountains and fresh air – definitely something tourists will not want to miss.

Snowcapped

If you have but three to five days to cover Switzerland, it is strongly recommended that you first visit Interlaken, which is situated among the famous Swiss Alps. Only consider the other parts of Switzerland if you have time to spare.

Interlaken is home to Jungfrau, the highest mountain in the region, and boasts of the Jungfraujoch train station as the ‘Top of Europe’.

To get there, you will have to take a special train from Interlaken Ost train station. It is, however, highly expensive to get there (181 Francs or S$235 for a round trip). To save money, most people would go for special Eurail passes or Swiss passes to enjoy about half price off. Alternatively, they could go to the train station really early to get the ‘Good Morning pass’ for about 157.80 Francs(S$204) for a round trip.

As it climbs at a leisurely pace up the treacherous mountains, the train will take you through a couple of stops, where you can get off, take a few pictures, or hop on another train to proceed further up. It is a very enjoyable slow ride up, so savor every moment.

Up on chilly Jungfrau, visitors should layer up before rushing out to enjoy some photo taking. And once you’re out in the open, look out and let the sea of snow capped mountains take your breath away. Here, you would realize that, expensive as the ride was, it is indeed worth every penny.

Apart from Jungfrau, Interlaken has wonderful scenery, coupled with beautiful lakes, and is worth renting a bicycle to cycle around. You can easily find bicycles rentals for 20 Francs (S$26) at the usual bike rental shops to little tiny Chinese eateries renting bikes with no suspensions for 10 Francs (S$13). Unlike Singapore, Switzerland roads are very cyclist friendly, so look out for cycling tracks along the roads (even on expressways), and just keep to these lanes for safety.

Cuisine and Accommodation

MichelleandFriends

In Switzerland, food and accommodation are generally pricey.

Hostels can easily come up to 25-30(S$32-S$39) Francs a night. However, their hostels are nicely furnished, incredibly comfortable and would provide a good stay for the night. Bring your own sleeping bed to avoid paying for sheets.

Food is also incredibly expensive – think 11.90 Francs/S$15.50 for a Fillet O Fish meal at Macdonalds!

Therefore, to save money on food and to localise your experience there, I would suggest buying some ingredients from their local supermarket Migros (picking only their M budget food items for lower price, larger quantities and decent quality), and whipping up a simple pasta meal at the hostels.

CheeseFondue

They usually have a fully furbished kitchen for your use and you may even pack your own sandwiches to eat along the way, saving money and your appetite instead for some of the local cuisines such as Raclette (potatoes with melted cheese), Cheese Fondue (melted cheese with alcohol which you dip bread in), and Rösti.

Cultures and Architecture

SwissTown

To fully maximise your trip to Switzerland, it would be good to select various towns within Switzerland that would bring out the diverse cultures of the Swiss.

With Switzerland being in the middle of France, Germany, Austria and Italy, it also means that as you get to the towns nearer to these neighbouring countries, the cultures, language and even the architecture starts to evolve to become more similar to them.

For example, towns nearer to the German borders (such as Zurich) have German as their main language, and have a very systematic and orderly layout for their buildings and homes. This layout starts to change and become more haphazard as we start moving further and further away from the German county.

To appreciate the three main cultures (French, German, Italian) in Switzerland, choose the main cities such as Geneva, Zurich and Lugano, which is the only fully Italian town in Switzerland. Marvel at despite being so different, how each of these places still remains remarkably Swiss with their bright colours, beautiful flowers and lovely fresh air.

Lastly, as in any European country, Switzerland has no lack of museums, churches, cobbled stones, and town halls. To avoid being saturated, pick up a few guidebooks before a trip and look through the various attractions that each town has to offer.

My advice would be to be highly selective: If they are not something you’re already interested in, forget about checking them out unless your aim is to cover every part of Switzerland.

About the Author: Michelle has caught the traveling bug ever since her six-month exchange to Switzerland back in 2008. She now spends part of her time lost in the memories of the good ol’ days there, and the rest of her time planning for the next trip to make the most out of her precious leave from work.

Related links: Eurail website, Skyscanner website (for cheap budget flights), Rick Steve’s Travel guide

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