Tag Archives: Switzerland

Switzerland Round Up

What photo takes you right back to Switzerland?

Sledging at Grindelwald

We had a lot of fun and amazing views on our day of sledging – it was a highlight for me and for Andrew.

Summarise Switzerland in three words.

  • Beautiful – with spectacular scenery, picturesque villages, and well preserved historic cities, Switzerland is a feast for the eyes
  • Orderly – clean streets, punctual trains, busses that are timetabled to connect with each other, Switzerland runs like clockwork
  • Expensive – all that beauty and efficiency comes at a price though. Most things are eye-wateringly expensive. Fortunately for most of our stay we were hosted by our wonderful (and generous) friends Heidi and Olivier.

You really know you’re in Switzerland when…

…you see people walking through the capital city with skis over their shoulders.

What one item should you definitely pack when going to Switzerland?

Your outdoor gear. You’ll definitely be wanting to take advantage of all the outdoor activities.

Andrew’s Switzerland Highlights

We’d always had the idea to travel overland through Europe in the back of our minds so we could visit friends, making a nice, slow end to our two year trip. Our first stop was a few days with long-time friends Heidi and Olivier in Bern, Switzerland. There’s a bit of overlap with Julie’s highlights, but here’s the list of my favourite moments..

Old Bern and the Bears

After meeting Heidi and Olivier for coffee, cake and lunch when we first arrived in Switzerland, we had a few hours to ourselves in the afternoon to explore the UNESCO listed old town of Bern.

Bern old town, Switzerland

The main street that runs the length of Bern’s beautiful old town is full of things to see: clock towers and fountains separate the traffic, lined with old buildings

We loved aimlessly wandering through the cobbled back streets of the old town in the cool, crisp snow-filtered mountain air. We popped our heads in the cathedral whose spire dominates the skyline, and we also found the Rathaus or town hall.

The Bern Minster, Bern Switzerland

Bern Minster’s mighty tower reaches high above the old town, here viewed from the River Aare

Heidi was very keen that we visit the bears, and we weren’t quite sure we’d heard her correctly.. bears? did she mean the grizzly kind? in Bern? really?

Bern Bears, Switzerland

Yes, there are grizzly bears in Bern! A very excited woman explained that this was the first day of the year that all 3 bears had come out together after their winter hibernation. Just like Julie after a long sleep, they were a little bit grumpy!

Sledging in Grindelwald

It made Julie’s list and had to make mine too because it was so much fun! Sure, pulling a heavy wooden sledge uphill for 3 hours was tiring (and I nearly gave up after a particularly steep bit near the top), but the gruelling climb made the descent all the sweeter..

Sledging in Grindlewald, Switzerland

The 3 hour uphill hike was pretty tough, but just look at the views!

Julie sledging, Switzerland

I think we’ve found Julie’s winter sport!

I was surprised how little control I had – I remember trying to stop pretty soon after we set off as it’s the first thing you do when learning to ski or snowboard, and I couldn’t! It was easier to turn than to slow down or stop, perhaps that’s why it’s so much fun!

Gruyères and the H.R. Giger Museum

Sometime before we started this trip I’d read an article about the Swiss artist H.R. Giger whom I’m pretty sure you may not have heard of either, but whose vivid surrealist dreams were the inspiration for all of the alien elements of Ridley Scott’s 1979 science-fiction horror masterpiece Alien, which I’m pretty sure you have heard of.

HR Giger Museum, Gruyeres, Switzerland

The entrance to the museum is just inside the walls of Gruyères castle and while there is a sign and some artwork outside, if you didn’t know what it was you might miss it! (Photo credit: Limping Cyclist)

Giger worked on the sets for the movie Alien, and was part of the team that won an Academy Award for Best Achievement in Visual Effects. I’d read quite a bit about his work and the museum so I knew what to expect, and it didn’t disappoint.

Entrance foyer, H.R. Giger musuem, Gruyeres, Switzerland

The entrance foyer of the H.R. Giger musuem. Understandably we weren’t allowed to take photographs. (Photo credit: Josie Borisow)

Giger was a prolific artist, and most of his work explores the same biomechanical otherworldly evolution – the organic forms resemble a distorted or contorted humanity often augmented or shackled by machinery. Always dark, usually foreboding and sometimes sexually explicit. Olivier remarked that Giger might have had problems with women which was an astute observation given Giger’s early life.

We all liked the museum, but I think it’s fair to say that I enjoyed it the most. I remember the first time I saw Ridley Scott’s Alien, and even knowing there’s an alien in it (because of the title), the suspense, special effects, and feeling of being hunted by something so much more adept still frightens me when I think of it.

One question that isn’t answered by the museum is this – why is it in the grounds of the idyllic Gruyères Château St. Germain? Because Giger bought it in 1998!


Yes, it made Julie’s list but it was a highlight for me too! Olivier was especially happy that we’d asked to share both fondue and raclette with them, though he suggested not on the same day..

Raclette, Bern, Switzerland

The modern apparatus for raclette where everyone gets their own “coupelle” or small pan to grill the cheese with. You know it’s done when you can easily pour the cheese over boiled potatoes and pickles. Delicious!

It’s a wonder to me how the Swiss retain their athletic figures, but then I quickly remember that the country is perfect for winter sports and summer hiking..

Hiking from Wattenwil to Thun

Speaking of which, on our last day with them, Olivier took us south for a hike through the rolling hills of Wattenwil to Lake Thun.

Hiking in Wattenwill, Switzerland

Spectacular views of the Alps, and not too far from where we were sledging just a couple of days before

Hiking in Wanderweg, Switzerland

Swiss Alpacas

We even made some new friends with these curious alpacas!

It was an overcast day but that didn’t spoil the views or our enjoyment.

Geneva Motor Show 2015

The main reason for stopping in Geneva for a day or so was to visit CERN as we’re both fascinated by science and discovery, but as soon as we arrived in Bern I saw posters for the 85th International Motor Show. A quick check of the entrance fees and I found the tickets are half-price for the last 4 hours of the day, which is probably Julie’s limit of looking at cars!

85th International Motor Show, Geneva, Switzerland

The lower halls of the 85th International Geneva Motor Show 2015

Koenigsegg Regera, Geneva Motor Show 2015, Switzerland

The first car we saw was the brand new Koenigsegg Regera and was Julie’s favourite. I hadn’t heard of Koenigsegg until the 2014 movie Need for Speed where the Agera R is the central supercar and this is their latest model – it’s so new that this is the first one they’ve made and it’s only about 85% complete!

Porsche 911 Turbo S, Geneva Motor Show 2015, Switzerland

Nothing new from my favourite marque Porsche at this year’s show, but plenty of Porsches throughout the floor demonstrating body kits and performance upgrades. This is my dream car – the 911 Turbo S (991)

Edag Light Cocoon concept, Geneva Motor Show 2015, Switzerland

We really liked the concepts on display, like this Edag Light Cocoon, which has lights inside and a waterproof fabric stretched over it. I wonder if it’s hand wash or dry clean only?

BMW and Jaguar staff dancing, Geneva Motor Show 2015, Switzerland

At the end of the show some of the larger stands turned it up to 11 and put on a little dance show! BMW at the top and Jaguar at the bottom

I visited the London Motor Show with my dad and my brother a few years ago so I knew largely what to expect, but I think the variation and the concept cars surprised Julie and in the end she enjoyed it as much as I did.

We had a fun-filled, jam-packed, cheese-fuelled week in Switzerland. Thanks again to our good friends Heidi and Olivier – we can’t wait to see you both again :o)

Julie’s Switzerland Highlights

We’ve visited Switzerland before as our good friends Heidi and Olivier live there. This time around we had an action packed week in the country, staying with them at their home in Bern for most of the time and ending with a couple of days in Geneva. Here are a few of my highlights:


I didn’t learn to ski as a child and although I’ve tried it as an adult I think I’m too afraid to really get into it. Sledging on the other hand turned out to be much more my cup of tea and we had an absolute blast on the Saturday of our stay.

Views from sledge run above GrindelwaldSpectacular views across the valley above Grindelwald [photo credit: Olivier Kern]

Grindelwald is about a 1.5 hour drive south-east of Bern and is home to the longest sledging run in Europe – a total length of 15km and a descent of 1600m. From the village we caught a bus partway up the mountain to Bussalp where it was time for a fortifying glass of gluhwein (mulled wine) and a slice of Swiss fruit and custard pie on a terrace with views across the valley before hiring our sledges and beginning the hike to the top of the hill.

Gluhwein at BussalpGluhwein to give us energy for the climb! [photo credit: Heidi Kern]

The information website claimed that it was a 2.5 hour hike from Bussalp to the top of the sledging run and while this may very well be true if you’re walking unencumbered, for us it was closer to a three and a half hour uphill slog dragging the sledges behind.

Climbing to the top of the sledge runThe sunshine and views kept us smiling as we trudged uphill

Eventually we reached the top and were able to begin the descent. It seemed a little unfair that it took less than an hour to sledge down the section that had cost us so much energy to climb. As we’d walked up we’d seen others sledging down and seeming well in control of their sledges, we felt much less in command and both ended up ‘off-piste’ at least once.

Sledging at GrindelwaldIt took much less time to get to the bottom than it had to reach the top – Andrew and Heidi zip downhill while Olivier looks concerned as I lay face down cackling like an idiot after crashing my sledge!


At times our stay in Switzerland felt like a bit of a cheese fest which is no bad thing as far as I’m concerned. Most people will have heard of cheese fondue, a famous Swiss dish, which Olivier cooked for us one night. Another local specialty is raclette which Heidi has made for us before and which we enjoyed again. For raclette, melted cheese is used to top boiled potatoes and pickled vegetables. Cheese also featured in miscellaneous breakfasts and lunches during our stay so that we thought that maybe we might need a cheese free few days after we left. Then we remembered that our next destination was France – better just buy a bigger pair of jeans now…

Cheese fondueOne evening we enjoyed cheese fondue for dinner. The purple bits are shallots which cook in the hot cheese as you dip in chunks of bread and are then ready to eat at the end of the meal

One of the cheeses which is almost always included in the mix when making a fondue is Gruyère, named after the medieval town of Gruyères. Although it’s technically a town, with a population of only about 2000 people, Gruyères is smaller than many villages. At its centre is a pretty town square (naturally surrounded by cheese shops and restaurants serving fondue) and at its eastern end is the castle with a fine view down the valley.

GruyèresThe pretty town square in Gruyères

Cheese shopOn the way back to Bern from Gruyères we stopped at a fantastic cheese shop in the nearby town of Bulle


Switzerland’s cities are generally very well preserved and lovely places to visit. Luzern turned out to be no exception to this rule. The compact historic centre is full of half-timbered buildings with paintings on their fronts and is home to the oldest covered wooden bridge in Europe, the Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge). The bridge which dates to 1333 was originally 285m long and part of Luzern’s fortifications. In the 17th century painted wooden panels were added along its length under the roof, sadly 81 of these were destroyed by a fire which broke out on the bridge in 1993.

Kapellbrücke, LuzernLuzern’s Kapellbrücke zigzags across the River Reuss; only around 30 of the bridge’s paintings now remain

Luzern's historic centreLuzern’s historic centre (clockwise from top left): colourful riverfront buildings; painted building; clock tower in the city walls; an impressive shop sign

Unfortunately the city walls don’t open until Easter but it was worth the walk up to them for the view across the town and down to the lake.

Lion MonumentOne of Luzern’s stranger sights is the statue of a dying lion dedicated to the memory of the Swiss Guards who lost their lives defending King Louis XVI during the French Revolution

In the afternoon we ventured out onto Lake Luzern for a one hour round trip cruise (Rundfahrt in German which tickled our childish sense of humour no end). Although it was a bit hazy the mountain views were beautiful.

Cruise on Lake LuzernA beautiful afternoon for a short cruise on Lake Luzern


We considered moving into Heidi and Olivier’s spare room but eventually decided that we ought to move on so we headed to Geneva for a couple of nights. One of the things which Geneva is famous for is CERN – the European Organisation for Nuclear Research – and Andrew discovered that it’s possible to take a guided tour there, it’s even free!

'Wandering the immeasurable', CERNThe ‘Wandering the immeasurable’ sculpture is the first thing you see when you get off the tram at CERN. It is engraved with great discoveries in physics from throughout the ages

After checking in at the reception, our group was met by our guide Anastasis, a computer scientist. He gave us some background on why CERN was set up (to create a centre for science in Europe after WWII and be a place where different countries could collaborate) before leading us to the 600 MeV Synchrocyclotron, CERN’s first particle accelerator, built in 1957 and decommissioned in 1991. It now serves as part of a very fancy audio visual display to explain how particle accelerators work.

Synchrocyclotron at CERNCERN’s first particle accelerator, the Synchrocyclotron

We’d read that final preparations were in progress to restart experiments in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). I knew that the huge particle accelerator is an important part of the science done at CERN, and certainly the highest profile, but I hadn’t realised that basically everything is centred on those experiments. Our next stop was at the control centre for the ATLAS detector, one of four points where the data from the particle collisions is collected and analysed.

ATLAS control centreATLAS detector control centre, the mural on the side is one third the real size, and the actual detector is 100m below ground

Anastasis’s explanation of the data collection was even more mind-blowing than the idea of tiny fundamental particles whizzing around and banging into each other. When the collider is operational, thousands of collisions happen every second generating 40TB of data. This is a staggering amount of information – equivalent to 8,500 DVDs every second. Fortunately the clever folks here have algorithms to sort it and filter that 40TB down to 300MB which is still quite a lot but can at least be feasibly stored.

Guide at CERNAnastasis explaining data collection at CERN beside a lego model of the ATLAS detector

I could go on for ages with the fascinating stuff that we learnt on the tour but I’ll finish with our favourite fact from the visit: when a proton is zooming around the particle accelerator at close to the speed of light it has the same mass as 6.5 mosquitos. We’re going to think of that every time we swat one from now on!