After being gifted the movie the Sound of Music for Christmas one year when I was young and watching it over and over, I had always dreamed of visiting the Alps one day. I had fantasized about dancing around in sunny, open fields surrounded by massive snow-capped mountains, just like Maria had. It is no surprise then, that Switzerland and Austria have been among my top three countries in the world that I was the most excited about seeing. Now, after spending more than a month here I can say with certainty that the Alps are everything I had hoped they would be… and so much more.
We first arrived in the northern part of Switzerland on a bus coming from Milan, so we were fortunate enough to witness the immense beauty of the country’s mountains, lakes and forests during the four-hour ride. We were in complete awe of the landscapes, we had never seen anything like it!
At one point while traversing through the heart of the Alps, it got a bit scary since the only options for getting through are either along man-made bridges jutting out from the side of the mountains or through insanely long tunnels that have been carved out of the inside of the mountains. We even drove through the worlds longest tunnel that was 11 miles long!
We arrived in the town of Meilen overlooking Lake Zurich where we took care of a dog, two cats and a beautiful home. For two weeks we were completely spoiled with a fully stocked kitchen, Hello Fresh deliveries, steaks, wine, and fresh grapes off the vine straight out of the backyard. Every night we grilled out, dined al fresco and had the most amazing view of the lake. It is moments like these where we realize just how special and rewarding this trip really is and are reminded to not take a single moment for granted.
One afternoon we were able to meet up with Rachel, a family friend who is living an hour away in Basel to go on a 10-mile hike and explore the hills and forest surrounding the area. Afterward, to cool off, we took a dip in the brisk waters of Lake Zurich. Although it was the end of summer, it still felt like a polar bear plunge! But the water was so clean and clear, we couldn’t resist. Our housesit owner even told us the water is so clean that you can safely drink it.
As a way to say goodbye to summer (and the end of five hot, sweaty months throughout our travels) we decided to go paddleboarding on the lake, which is something we have both always wanted to do. Not only was Lake Zurich the perfect place to paddleboard, as the waters are perfectly clear but it was also the perfect timing, as it was one of the last hot days before the season began to change to fall.
Our housesit came to an end and we moved onward to the northeast of the country, to the third-largest city of Basel. Here we spent a week with Rachel in this adorable town that appears to be the bicycle capital of the world. Everyone everywhere rides their bikes. To work, to school, to shop. The bikes rule the streets in Basel. Even pedestrians must yield to them. There are bike lanes everywhere and bike lots where you will see hundreds of bicycles lined up, many of them not even chained because crime and theft are virtually nonexistent in Switzerland. We were amazed by this concept of biking as the preferred method of transportation and admire the city for making it work.
During our stay in Basel, we didn’t get out much because everything in Switzerland is SO expensive! Just to give you an idea, a cheeseburger will cost you $25, a fast food meal $18, a plain bagel $8, and a bottled water at a restaurant $6.50. In Zurich, the average cup of coffee is the highest in the world. So, as you can imagine eating out in this country is pricey (for tourists). If you live here and are earning a Swiss salary, everything is relative and seems fair (the minimum wage here is 60K/year). So we cooked at home and focused on working throughout the week.
Our weekend trip took us to Lauterbrunnen, a little town nestled in the foothills of the Alps. We arrived to what seemed like a ghost town, with not a soul in sight and got settled into our cute little cabin hostel. We then strolled down the main street, climbed the side of 1 of Lauterbrunnen’s 72 waterfalls in the valley and dined on the local cuisine of schnitzel and rösti (the Swiss version of fried pork and a spin-off of hash browns). It was absolutely delicious.
The next morning we got up super early to head out for our next adventure that took us to the very top of one of the highest mountains in the Alps. We rode three different intensely long cable cars all the way up, where we arrived at Piz Gloria and had brunch in a 360-degree rotating restaurant in the clouds. While sipping on champagne and enjoying the view from the top of the world, we were entertained by a yodeling male choir. After two hours of taking advantage of the all you can eat (and drink) buffet, we walked out onto the edge of the earth and took it all in.
Before starting our descent, we visited the James Bond 007 museum that was created in memory of the movie filmed there in 1969. We then mustered up enough courage to venture out onto the famous Skywalk, a mix of glass and fence sidewalk platforms built into the side of the mountain, looking straight down 10,000 feet. It was one of the coolest, most terrifying things we have ever done!
After taking one cable car back down, we opted for hiking the rest of the way so we could see the quaint little mountain towns, magical waterfalls and adorable nature trails while watching dozens of paragliders floating through the valley. The sun was shining, the air was cool and it was the most perfect hike to date. The landscapes were so unreal, we felt like we were living in a dream.
We took our time, stopping for a beer along the way and visiting The Honesty Shop, an unattended store where you simply make a purchase by putting money into an envelope and dropping it in a box. What an incredible concept!
We finally made it back to Lauterbrunnen, the little mountain town that hosts hundreds of base jumpers annually. It is perfectly situated among some of the world’s best base jumping cliffs and brings people from all over the world. And we were lucky enough to witness a jump in action and meet the jumper himself as he landed in a field right next to us! After we cheered him on, congratulating him on an awesome flight, he showed us the GoPro video he had just taken where he was flying just inches away from the side of the mountain in a squirrel suit at a speed over 100 MPH. We walked back to town with him while he shared his story with us. We found out that this adrenaline junkie from Salt Lake City had just sold everything he owned, quit his job and set out to travel the world with just a backpack, a squirrel suit and a parachute. His journey had only just begun and Lauterbrunnen was his first stop on his world tour.
Later that evening, having dinner at a local restaurant, we were trying to find his Instagram page he had shared with us earlier but weren’t having any luck. As we were talking about his page, we heard a voice behind us say, “Uh, did I just hear my name?” We turned around and there he was, David, the base jumper. It was a very curious moment of coincidence that reminded us all how funny life can be. He joined us at the bar and we chatted the rest of the evening about his adrenaline-chasing, death-defying pursuits.
The sad reality of the sport, however, is that not all participants are lucky enough to defy the odds. There are many deaths every year, making it the most dangerous sport in the world. We found out from David that there had even been a death the previous day due to a jumper, one of his friends, going out in less than favorable conditions. It had rained earlier in the afternoon, leaving everything damp. When he went running towards the edge of the cliff to gain momentum for the jump, he lost his footing and slipped at the last second, falling forward and was unable to pull his chute. The accident happened in the early evening, at the same time we had arrived in town. While walking to our hostel, we saw the rescue helicopter as it was in flight to the scene and even had the discussion whether we thought something bad had happened. We concluded that it was probably just a helicopter tour for people wanting to get an aerial view of the Alps. Sadly, we were wrong.
As we said goodbye to Lauterbrunnen and headed back to Basel, we decided to make a pit stop in the little town of Thune. We had a lovely afternoon eating flammkuchen (Switzerland’s famous flatbread pizza) on the beautiful canals of Lake Thun and watched a river surfing competition. And yes, river surfing is a real sport! Who knew?
Arriving back in Basel, we took the next couple days to explore the Old Town and watch all the locals float down the Rhine River on their wickelfisch, a waterproof bag where they store all of their belongings. The floaters enter the river on the south part of town and float several miles before getting out. But if they’re not careful and get out in time, they will cross the border into France and we have heard they’re not so forgiving at the border! We so badly wanted to take the float but decided that purchasing wickelfisch wouldn’t be worth it for a one-time use. So instead, we spent the rest of our time in Basel on our laptops, making money to fund our next great adventure.
Overall, our first two weeks in Switzerland were absolutely amazing and equally unforgettable as the second two weeks! Stay tuned for our next blog coming soon… Switzerland Part II.