30 Great things about Switzerland….
So much has happened in our life this year and we took FULL advantage of everything that we were presented with. There is nothing that we have any regrets about and learned something everywhere we went!
But back to our current and adopted country: Switzerland. Here in no particular order are over 30 things that we will always remember fondly about Switzerland and Geneva in particular.
- It`s small size: Switzerland is a small country with diverse regions. French in the West, German (Swiss German) in the North and East and Italian in the South. With all of that diversity happening in one small country it`s no wonder most Swiss people speak 3, 4 or even 5 languages. And getting from one side of the country to the other via train doesn`t take more than 6 hours. If you really wanted you could leave Geneva early morning and be find yourself in Scuol around lunch.
- Speaking of regions: Where else could you get to 26 different cantons in 1 year? Each canton is known for something remarkable in Swiss history and has their own Flag! I have no doubt that other exchange couples probably had a totally different experience than we did just due to how different each region and canton can be.
- French Switzerland: Renowned for their food and wine, the French Swiss love nothing better than a typical Swiss Fondue or Raclette. Their French Swiss language is a little slower (or so I have been told) making it easier for foreigners to learn than the ever so rapid Parisian French. The French Swiss also have some of their own words: septante (70) versus soixante-dix (70) in classical French, huitante (ok this may be less common but still acceptable) and nonante (90). It makes sense and is much easier for foreigners and young children to grasp than quatre-vingt and quatre-vingt-dix.
- German Switzerland: While similar to normal German the Swiss German Dialect is totally different! It’s Switzerland so it has to be! With their own special food Rosti (basically golden fried hash browns) you can really add anything to it that you want. The Swiss German is renowned for their punctuality and cleanliness.
- Italian Switzerland: Amazing, clean and friendly. If you want the Italian experience without some of the dirtiness and disorderly conduct found in Italy visit Lugano.
- Friends: Our new friends are all from such different backgrounds but all moved Geneva seeking an opportunity! While we didn`t all speak the same first language we all found ways to communicate and whether it was going to a movie or hanging out by the park it was great to make friends who were in the same boat as us. We also made some wonderful Swiss friends and we hope our new friendships will continue into the future!
- Vinathons: What exactly is a vinathon? It is were 4 or 5 vineyards open themselves up to a limited amount of the public and you walk around a course sampling wine along the vineyards! You get to see some really pretty countryside and the wine is great too. Each place is a little different and usually they give you little snacks along the way to keep you moving! Did I mention your prize is getting to pick a bottle of wine at the end? All of that for a 20 Franc admission fee. Not for the faint of heart. I would hazard a guess of around 10 kilometres minimum so bring your walking shoes!
- Every little restaurant, café, boulangerie and bar: While the big corporation like McDonalds exist, there is nothing better than heading to your local restaurant, or café, or boulangerie literally down the street. Friendly, efficient and quick they often strike up a conversation with you. It`s great to see that people take the time to have a coffee or espresso, instead of running through a drive through and sipping on a hot beverage as they drive down the highway. I love the fact that people take the time to enjoy the smallest things and also support the local business.
- Fondue: Melted cheese, bread, pickles and onions, what can I say!
- Raclette: Almost the same principle but grilled cheese with potatoes and the same pickles and onions. Both come with healthy glasses of Swiss White wine and shots of Kirsch or Williamine (pear flavored brandy/Schnapps) which is said to: aid digestion……….
- The age old which is better fondue versus Raclette discussion: At some point in your travels if you encounter and make some Swiss friends they will pose 2 important questions: Which is better fondue or raclette? Hopefully you have had both and can defend your point! A common area of defence is: potatoes for raclette tend to be lighter and less filling than the bread for fondue.
- Caillier Chocolate: Ok, ok, ok so Nestle bought this Swiss institution but they still make their own brand of chocolate. You can take a train called the chocolate train (no joke) from Montreux to spend some time in gruyeres, head to the Caillier factory in Broc for the afternoon and load up on Chocolate. Caillier by far and away is our favorite. They just seem to go that extra mile, like roasting the hazelnuts before putting them into their chocolate while most places skip this critical step, caillier makes no compromises. Pick some up if you have a chance.
- The Swiss Franc: Say what you want about the franc, but it is the only place where you can take a 200 Franc note and buy a coke in a convenience and the cashier will not bat an eyelash. I have even seen 1000 Swiss franc notes min you for later purchases and again, not problem.
- SBB: Need to get to go from Geneva to Lugano? Do you need tickets to a special event? Do you need a hotel? SBB does it all! They will even sell you Paris (yes Paris) metro passes. They are incredible and sometimes the line might be too long, but it is always worth it. As a side note if you are in Switzerland for more than a couple weeks go get yourself a Demi-tariff (130 francs) it gives you half off on almost all travel within Switzerland. It is incredible and some places even give you a reduced rate (some museums for example). If you plan on booking more than 260 francs in train travel get one for yourself, it will be worth it! Anyone can get one!
- COOP: Coop is a grocery store. On almost every corner of every town and City you can find a COOP. Some are bigger than others, some small but the one common feature with COOP that you won’t find at some other places is that they have a beer and wine selection. Also, with almost all Coop stores they have a chocolate aisle! It is something to see.
- MIGROS: Between Migros and Coop they basically run Switzerland! Migros is similar to Coop but tend to have larger stores and carry mostly their own brand of migros products. They also tend to have large fresh seafood and meat selection, something that coop doesn’t tend to have. They also seem to have more sale items like pizzas, and meat for a good discount. You just need to know when to go and keep your eyes on the flyers. Side note: Denner is also a grocery store but is owned by Migros.
- The MIGROS versus COOP discussion: The second most important discussion. Migros tends to be a little more pricey than coop. But COOP tends to carry more local Swiss produce. By choosing a store you are identifying who you are. Choose wisely 😉
- Ecole Club MIGROS: Migros the same grocery chain gives back to the community in the form of a host of activities but the best known is ecole club migros. You can take a course on almost anything from languages, to cooking at a somewhat subsidized rate. Okay language courses can be pricey but if you are looking for some solid instruction ecole migros is in almost every major city and can help you out. Plus you don’t need to have a special student status. Just enroll and learn!
- Actual seasons: In Geneva we had 4 defined seasons that basically matched the elementary school formulation of winter, spring summer, and fall with neither each lasting 3 months nor more. It was amazing to witness this more or less for the first time in recent memory as back home in Calgary we get winter for 5 or 6 months, fall for a 2-3 summer for 1 maybe 2 and a super short spring.
- Swiss wine: The rumour has it that the Swiss make wine that is of good quality but not enough for foreign consumption. Therefore, all Swiss wine is drank domestically, (whether that is true or not), I have had some good wine for as little as 5 francs a bottle and as much as 35, even more. My advice, go shopping buy a half dozen bottles or do a vinathon and taste test them!
- The jet d’eau: to me it is one of the coolest monuments anywhere. The fountain is alive and is never same. Sure it’s just a spout of water, but the wind changes its appearance ever so slightly and you the chance to walk out on the pier and get sprayed on a hot day. It is something to see.
- Geneva of course!: The lake, old town, reformation wall, the Russian church, the art museum, the UN, CERN and a whole host of wonderful restaurants, parks and bars that dot the lakefront. While pricey Geneva was a great place, and did I mention almost no hills! It is a bike lover’s paradise and walking multiple hours in a day is no problem. It is so easy to walk and get around. A great little city indeed!
- The Lion in Lucerne and the covered bridges: If you go, you need only look for the signs and it will point you in the right direction. One of the saddest things I have seen, it is a rock lion carved in a wall. Its lifelike realism and sadness should not be missed. It is something to see. The covered bridges are reputed to be one of the most photographed sights in all of Switzerland it is really something to talk along them and take in all of the history. It kind of makes you feel pretty insignificant.
- The Mountains: Mont Blanc, Matterhorn, and Jungfrau. All of them are known. All you need to do is see a picture and instantly you will know them all.
- Toberlerone: Okay, okay but did you know that every toberlerone is made in Switzerland. No outsourcing. Every piece of toberlerone in the shape of the mountain (Matterhorn) is manufactured outside of Bern. Fun Fact, the state symbol for Bern is a Bear. Look at a toberlerone logo and inside the mountain you will see and outline of a bear.
- The Bears in Bern along the shopping street: What a great day to spend the day and check out a UNESCO world heritage site, and some really cool shops. At the end there are the bears of Bern, usually frolicking about. As you cross the bridge and fight through the tourists you get a chance to see what these funny bears are up to.
- Swiss people: usually friendly and welcoming, they also speak almost every language under the sun but appreciate you trying in French, German or Italian. If you ever have trouble just ask nicely and someone should be able to help you out.
- Waterfalls at Schaffhausen: Ok they, maybe small but they were in impressive in power as they came thundering over the rolling boulders.
- Lugano: Have you been to Italy? What did you not like about Italy: the lack of cleanliness? The tourists? Well in Lugano there is none of that. It is tidy, small, and friendly and surprisingly a little more affordable than the rest of Switzerland. It also has some of the more temperate weather and the Mediterranean influence is definitely felt here.
- Bellinzona: CASTLES, CASTLES and more castles. No trip is complete without seeing the Castello Grande. I still don’t get how you block off and ENTIRE VALLEY. A must see.
- Davos: in the far west of Switzerland lies a tiny town renowned for their world economic summit and Hockey tournament each Christmas called the Spengler cup. Team Canada is a regular participant and during lockout years, seeing some good talent is quite possible. This sleepy little town is in the heart of skiing and finding a hill to ski on is no problem.
- Combat des Rheine’s: Combat of Swiss cows done in early May. Imagine cows wrestling with their heads to figure out who will be the leader of the head, while you have a program guide and the cows are numbered and have names like, COBRA, Shakira, and lightening. It makes for quite the experience.
- Des Alpes: After the cows come down from spending a summer in the mountain and eating good mountain grass they are fat and the farmers need to celebrate. Beer, wine and cheese making take place in September and it is something to see to come full circle on the cows.
- COWS: They make milk and cheese. The Swiss love both. Without hearing cowbells in a mountain here in Switzerland our trip would have never been complete.
While this list could keep going and going, 30 plus a few extras are some of the things that we will vividly remember and never forget.
Thanks Switzerland for your hospitality and letting us experience all that you have to offer. I know we will be back in the future to check up on you and make sure you are treating your next generation of guests with the same hospitality as you showed us.