Salami Sandwiches in the Swiss Alps (Part 1)

Switzerland has been the most challenging country for me to plan out so far. There are a lot of beautiful cities, the country is small so it’s pretty easy to get around, but it’s extremely expensive so going everywhere wasn’t really an option. Furthermore, traveling from city to city isn’t just “transportation”, there are panoramic routes which make certain trains really expensive, and given the main attraction is seeing the alps, I wanted to have the flexibility to stay or go should the weather dictate as such. Finally, while I did not buy the Eurail pass because being over 28 essentially kills all discounts, the Swiss rail pass was worth considering because not only does it give you access to all trains and local transport, it also provides discounted and sometimes free cable car/cog wheel/gondola rides up the mountains, which can be over $100 round trip for some peaks, and free ferry rides (every major city in Switzerland is on a lake).

So, after an exhausting amount of research and the help of some experienced Swiss travelers, I ended up with an 8 day Swiss rail pass with plans to visit Zurich, Lucerne, Montreux, and Zermatt. This “Part 1” post will include my stops in Zurich and Lucerne, while “Part 2” will cover Montreux and Zermatt.

Zurich

I only had one day in Zurich (it’s above average Swiss expensive and there aren’t any mountains to climb), but as it was my first Swiss experience I’ll make a few notes:

  • In Zurich they speak Swiss-German. I’m told it’s as close to German as Portuguese is to Spanish. To me it sounded like a kind of German that rolls off the tongue (so not close to German at all really).
  • I tried Raclette, a traditional Swiss dish. Melted raclette cheese over potatoes with a tiny pickle and pickled onions. I mean it was fine, it tasted how it looks, like melted cheese and potatoes. For CHF 15 (it’s essentially CHF 1 : USD 1) I wouldn’t buy it again.
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  • I learned why the Swiss Franc is abbreviated CHF and why all Swiss websites end in .ch. The official name of Switzerland is the Swiss Confederation derived from the Latin Confoederatio Helvetica = CH.
  • Every car was a BMW, Mercedes, or Audi or something like this:
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  • I felt under-dressed (even more so than I always do 🙂 )
  • Most windows have Swiss Army knives and watches:
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The old town was really pretty and I enjoyed strolling around and window shopping (it was Sunday so everything was closed, not that I could afford to actually shop there).

On my way out of Zurich I had the pleasure of meeting a friend of a friend in Rapperswil, about a 2 hour ferry from Zurich. Marco showed me around the university and town and taught me some of the Rapperswil history (which was more informative than the walking tour guide in Zurich). The town is beautiful and I had a great time learning about some Swiss culture from a local. Thanks again Marco, and Derek for introducing us!

Lucerne

In the ~10 days leading up to Switzerland I was constantly checking the weather. All I wanted was one or two semi clear days to hike the alps. I had a major internal struggle because the entire week I spent in Munich it was 70s and sunny country-wide in Switzerland; I came pretty close to skipping Munich altogether to take advantage of the weather but I’m too into WWII history for that. So I took my chances.

My three days in Lucerne were absolutely gorgeous. My first day was forecast to be clearest so I wanted to get up a mountain first thing. Lucerne is surrounded by mountains, but there are really three prominent ones that are visited: Pilatus, Rigi, and Titlis.

Pilatus and Rigi were both free to access with my Swiss Pass, and Pilatus was higher so off I went. They have something called the “Golden Round Trip”. You take a bus from Lucerne to a town called Kriens, where you take a gondola to an aerial cableway called the “Dragon Ride” up to the top of Pilatus, then the steepest cogwheel railway in the world takes you back down to a town called Alpnachstad where you board a ferry back to Lucerne. Sounds pretty good, right? Oh, and between the gondola and the Dragon Ride there’s a toboggan ride…

At the top there are some small hikes you can to different viewpoints, including an hour round trip hike to a peak called Tomlishorn. The views were stunning, I really don’t know how else to describe it. It felt like you were walking on top of the world. I took 152 pictures that day, so here are just a few of my favorites. I’ve posted more to my photo gallery (sorry, I realize now this hasn’t been updated since Budapest!)

This is also where I began my Swiss tradition of eating salami sandwiches on top of mountains:

The second day I felt a bit guilty for the lack of actual hiking so I decided to hike Mt. Rigi from bottom to top. It’s peak is 1,798 m (5,899 ft) and it took me just under three hours. The mountains were a bit hazy that day but no less beautiful (however the old Swiss lady on the train going down told me the views were just terrible today…).

And of course, a salami sandwich at the top:

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Finally the third day I spent in town. There is a wooden bridge (the longest wooden bridge in Europe, naturally) and a cool lion monument which is a memorial to the Swiss soldiers who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution.

But I think my favorite part was climbing the old watch towers and  walking along the old city walls.

While the towns of Lucerne and Zurich are incredibly touristy, the trails are dominated by the locals. But “local” in Switzerland doesn’t mean they all speak one language. So something I found amusing here was everyone I came across on the trail said hello, but it sounded different every time (so I really only think it was hello). I was able to pick up the formal Swiss-German hello (grüezi, pronounced gruzzi) but it became a joke to me that every person I passed said something different.

Also, English doesn’t even seem to be a top 5 language here when it comes to sign posts in the touristy areas. Swiss-German, German, French, Italian, Chinese, then English.

Another thing I noticed was that there is a cross on top of every mountain peak. I learned from speaking to a few locals (when you hit the trails you end up in these 4 person gondola rides for up to 30 minutes with locals so I used them as tour guides) Switzerland is quite a conservative and religious country. A shocking fact is women were not given the right to vote nationally until 1971 (not until 1991 in one locality).

As much as I wanted to stay in Lucerne forever, the show must go on. Up next, Montreux and Zermatt!

17 thoughts on “Salami Sandwiches in the Swiss Alps (Part 1)

  1. Hal and Barbara LeVay

    If you are in Milan you must be visiting the cathedral. Be sure to wander the Galleria nearby. It’s not a very attractive city but one of the world’s high fashion headquarters.
    When in Florence, if you want to treat yourself to a good meal, try the Golden View. Sounds like a Chinese restaurant but it is very Italian. It is on the Arno just a block from the Ponte Veccio. There is a really good gelato store on the corner. Both Josh and Zach liked the restaurant a lot. We were there with Josh on a Christmas night and listened to some cool jazz while stuffing ourselves with a variety of pasta.
    Hal and Barbara

    1. Thanks! I have actually found Milan to be very attractive but maybe my expectations were low. Can’t wait to see the other cities!
      I’ll definitely look up that restaurant in Florence. You are both welcome to join me you know 😉

    1. No! Nor had I heard of this. Did you read it as a kid?
      I looked up the locations, looks like her Aunt raised her near Lichtenstein and then she went to Dorfli, which is south of Pilatus so maybe I saw it from there!

      1. Can’t believe you never read Heidi?? I’ve failed as a mother 😦
        Amazing pictures and comments in your post. “Almost” feel like I’m there. Continue having the time of your life. Love, Mom

      2. auntcorie

        Yes, It was given to me by my Aunt Lillian, your father’s mother’s youngest sister.
        It was a gift for my 7th or 8th birthday. It was written in1881. I still have it. I will never forget it.

  2. auntlinda5

    All those views plus Salami and chocolates – thanks for another great post Em! (Seriously, you never read Heidi? It’s never too late. Something for when you get home 😊). Love you!

    1. Not only have I never read it, it doesn’t sound remotely familiar. I now feel like I have a hole in my childhood. I’ve got 5 books going at once right now so it’ll have to wait!

  3. rfeldman27

    I feel like I’m running out of things to say about this incredible journey of yours. I just miss you, love you, and admire you so much! Oh…and your grandpa Mel would give you a big thumbs up on the salami sandwiches.

  4. What stunning photographs and a great commentary on each locale. Switzerland’s been on my list to see, but now I think it’s moved up a few notches! Florence – Oh, my heart and soul love Florence! Enjoy every moment there. I think I’m going to never sleep when I visit – I don’t want to “waste” the time when I could be looking out my window, absorbing it all … instead I walk myself into weariness. Safe travels!

  5. kmcraig32

    Hi Em! I may have told you that two of my half brothers are married to Swiss women who happen to be sisters. Eric and Nadja’s three kids are double cousins with Andy and Silvana’s two kids- crazy, right? The last time I was in Switzerland was for Eric and Nadja’s wedding (I was 17) where they served Raclette which was delicious (how did you not like it?!?). Did you enjoy your cheese fondue? I have the sisters’ recipe and I can make it for book club when you return.

    1. Haha I don’t think I knew that! I did like the raclette, I just wouldn’t pay so much for it again 😊
      The cheese fondue was very delicious and would make a great book club meal!

  6. Laurie Elbogen

    Emily, Your mom told me about your blog. You are an amazing writer. I feel like I am there with you and actually wish I was….We hope to go to this area of the world soon and will definitely follow your notes and buy plenty of salami sandwiches. Aloha.

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