I dreamt of going to Switzerland since I was nine years old. Immersed in the glossy travel guides I collected, I could almost picture myself there. But it seemed a place too fantastic to ever be reached. I finally had the chance to travel to visit Switzerland from Geneva to Interlaken to Lurcerne as an adult. I was so excited that I couldn’t sleep at all on the flight from San Francisco to Frankfurt or the connecting flight to Geneva.
A Dream Comes True: From Geneva to Interlaken
After checking into the Hotel Bristol on the Rue du Mont-Blanc, I set out on a walk across the Rhone River to the old town part of the city. My stay in Geneva was going to be very short, so although feeling quite tired from the flight, there was no way that I could stay in the hotel and sleep. It was a blustery November day and leaves were swirling around as I walked along the narrow, winding streets of the old town past many shops, cafes and St. Peter’s Cathedral. I stopped in a café for a coffee (with chocolate, of course) and sat by a window watching the people and scenes happening around me, hardly believing that I was, at last, really in Switzerland. The little bit of French I knew at the time and a phrase book were very helpful in communicating at my stops throughout the afternoon. I was pleased to find that people were very patient and friendly, especially since I started most conversations with “Excusez-moi. Parlez-vous anglais?”
In addition to being well-known as a premier location for chocolate and watches, Geneva is home to many world-class museums, galleries and historic places. I toured the International Museum of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (MIRC), which has intense and absorbing exhibits presenting the history, contributions and focus of the world’s first humanitarian organization founded by Henri Dunant in 1863. The sculpture at the entrance of the museum is called “The Petrified” by Carl Bucher. It is very thought-provoking and exemplifies violations of human rights, appeals for tolerance and efforts to alleviate suffering. Nearby MIRC on the Avenue de la Paix is the United Nations office in Geneva, the Palais des Nations. Unfortunately, I missed the tour that day, but enjoyed seeing this significant place from the outside as I explored the city.
Geneva to Interlaken
Over the next three days, we traveled by Swiss Rail through a part of Switzerland that included Lausanne, Montreux, Interlaken, Lucerne and then back to Geneva. First stop – Lausanne, a picturesque city on Lake Geneva that is home of the International Olympic Committee and Olympic Museum. From the train station we walked up the cobblestone streets of the city with a local woman who showed us the way up the steep hill to Lausanne Cathedral, built in the 13th century. We were awed thinking of all the people who must have walked the same footsteps over the last millennium. The cathedral is surrounded by winding streets with many shops, restaurants and offices.
The next stop on our journey was Veytaux, a short distance by bus from the train station at Montreux. Here was Château de Chillon, a castle built in the 9th or 10th century located near the shore. Lord Byron’s poem “The Prisoner of Chillon” is about a Genevois monk who was imprisoned there. The dungeon is open to tour and has quite an eerie feeling. Being there off-season and late in the day, we were the only people touring the buildings of the castle which allowed us to roam around feeling like explorers finding a long-deserted castle instead of tourists.
Back in Montreux to catch the train to Interlaken, we were somewhat confused about what train to board. There were three young women trying to help us, one in particular who spoke English. They were concerned that we were not taking the right train to Interlaken – saying that this one “went up the hill”. We were still confused when it was time to depart, but got on the same coach as they did. When we asked the conductor if the train went to Interlaken, he said “Yes”. When one of our new friends spoke to him in French, he replied (in French), “What are you – their family?” So the train started moving and we just accepted the situation and felt it might be a serendipitous adventure. The train made a few local stops and we realized that it would be a long time before we reached Interlaken, where we hadn’t made any hotel reservations. Many people got off at the same stop where we bid “au revoir” to our new friends.
As it turned out, the women were recommending the fastest, easiest way to Interlaken. The one we chose was a much slower, 3-legged route that is the same path as the scenic Golden Pass rail line, but does not have the panorama coaches or service that transports tourists through the Alps. This was the local train and with that realization, I was even more delighted, albeit a little apprehensive that we had chosen this route. The train was chugging along and obviously starting to go “up the hill” although I couldn’t see anything in the dark. We kept climbing and at one point, the lights flickered on the train, went out and the train came to a stop. Looking out the window, I could see that snow was falling, but in the darkness couldn’t make out anything about our surroundings, further adding to the wonderful sense of adventure I was feeling. After a few minutes, the train jerkily started moving again and we were on our way. I looked at a map of Switzerland to see where we might be going. If this was the wrong train, Italy seemed to be our likely destination. Further along the route, we made a stop in Gstaad, which of course helped us to get our bearings.
After we had made two train transfers, at Zweisimmen and Spiez, we started looking up Interlaken hotels in our guide book, hoping to find a room since it would be 10 p.m. when we arrived. The hotel we first called was closed for remodeling, but they recommended the Hotel Interlaken. We’re so glad they did. From Interlaken Ost station, it was a short walk on a very quiet night. It’s a lovely hotel in a building dating from the 14th century. Our room had French windows with a pleasant view of the adjacent churchyard, whose bells rang beautifully on Sunday morning. We had a busy plan for the following day as we would be headed to Jungfraujoch, the “Top of Europe”, to experience an amazing journey on the Jungfrau railway and a spectacular view of the Alps.
Oh wow – how beautiful it is! My husband really likes Switzerland but I’ve never been. Can’t wait to see it for myself next year!
Yes, Switzerland is beautiful! The photos don’t really do it justice since it was quite overcast the day we took them with our standard point and shoot. Another post with pics taken on a gorgeous sunny day in the Alps will be coming soon.
A lovely account of what sounds like an amazing trip Cathy. The Glacier Express is said to be one of the world’s ultimate train rides and while I think it sadly may no longer be included in an InterRail / Eurail ticket anymore because of its popularity this post certainly sells it to me and others no doubt! I also love that feeling when you arrive in a new city and are just too excited by it to sleep, I often get that. Course the flipside is that you’re knackered the next day!
I’d love to ride the Glacier Express someday and see that part of Switzerland. The Swiss rail system is so comprehensive when it comes to both basic transportation needs and scenic tourist travel. And of course, traveling by train is a wonderful way to see many places in the world, as your great website illustrates!
Sounds like an amazing trip- I’m so happy you finally got to go! Switzerland is definitely on our list to visit and hopefully soon.
Oh Boy. I feel like a broken record in these comments but here goes… Another place we have had on our list for a very long time. Thanks for the increased motivation to make it to Switzerland sooner!
Jade and No Vacation Required – definitely keep Switzerland on your lists! I still have a pretty large part of the country on mine. Much more to see than I was able to include on my visit. But coming up soon I’ll have another post with more info and pics about my trip, including the Alps and Lucerne.
love reading about a travel dream coming true! especially a long-awaited one. it sounds & looks amazing- your photos of Veytaux and Château de Chillon especially! Just met a super-friendly traveler from Switzerland while in Rarotonga, who generously extended an open invite to stay with her…you’ve inspired me to take her up on it sooner rather than later! think i could follow your route to the letter and love every minute 🙂
Thanks, Lorna. How cool to have an open invite to stay with someone in Switzerland – go, go, go!
Great overview! I’ve always wanted to go to Geneva – admittedly, I’m a sucker for a castle overlooking a lake. 🙂
I’m a broken record like NVR but a wee bit different- You’ve awakened memories of Berne and Interlaken again Cathy. 1974…… but yes one of those really picturesque countries we’d like to get to again. I still remember our prang in our Contiki bus with a car, on that narrow windy road to Interlaken… Probably a 4 lane highway now.
I visited about 15 years ago. Funny, I don’t really remember the museum, but definitely remember the chocolate and watches — at least the one watch I bought.
I didn’t get a watch, but had plenty of chocolate!
The MIRC is a very interesting and thought-provoking museum. It reinforced my opinion that the Int’l. Red Cross is a very good organizaton helping those affected by war, intolerance and human rights violations. I recommend a visit there to anyone visiting Geneva.
This is definitely on my list too….but I’m glad that I have this to tide me over until then.
I really want to visit Château de Chillon one day!