Alden Boon

6 Things You Should Know before Going to Switzerland

13/12/2017

Switzerland, a country synonymous with peace, natural beauty and cheese. For many, she is a bucket-list country. Here are some tips for you before you head to the spellbinding country!

Zurch HB Station
Photo Credit: Samuel Zeller

The public network runs like clockwork

On the first day of my New Zealand trip with Haka Tours, I got lost and my inept sense of direction became a recurring joke throughout my two-week sojourn. Imagine my initial apprehension when I realised I had to bite the bullet, forgo the comforts of taxis, and brave the intricate labyrinth of Swiss public transport! But as it turns out, it is the easiest thing to navigate. In fact, the only time I got lost was in Swiss beauty.

Being a Singaporean whose faith in the public transport system has been eroded, I marvelled at the swift efficiency of the Swiss network. Trains and buses depart and arrive as per the scheduled timing. There were delays, of course, but they were extremely rare and only off by mere minutes.

Every bus stop has a distinct name, and the front of the buses (and trains) is fitted with a digital display that tells you the current and upcoming stops, so you do not have to start counting the number of stops as the bus leaves the interchange. Download the official SBB mobile app, which you can use to see the most updated schedules, check occupancy as well as book your tickets. While en route, you can even see, in real time, the progress of your journey!

And yes, you can lug your luggage on to the trains and buses — there are dedicated shelves and spaces for them.

Get the Swiss Travel Pass

On that note, if you are spending a few days in Switzerland, consider getting the Swiss Travel Pass: There are three-; four-; eight-; and fifteen-day options. This is ideal if your itinerary is jampacked with activities, and if you intend to embark on intercity exploration. Forget loose change and worrying about buying a ticket and then missing the scheduled train or bus! You can choose between first- and second-class cabins; the latter is cosy enough, just that it might get congested during rush hours. The Swiss Travel Pass also grants you free entry to 500 museums, and up to fifty per cent off mountain-railway tickets (if you intend to see landmarks such as Jungfraujoch).

Tipping is not required

When dining at cafés or restaurants, it is not customary to tip the waitstaff — a service charge has already been added to the final bill. As a token of appreciation for the exceptional service (or if you have obsessive compulsive disorder and require things to be in perfect tens), you can round up your bill to the nearest number, for example, from CHF57 to a nice CHF60.

The food is expensive

No, a more apt word is “overpriced”. A small bowl of rice cost CHF5, but I still ordered it because I was a Chinese deprived of rice (also, I had crispy duck for my main course, and I can think of no other suitable staple to accompany my meat). Go to TripAdvisor and read the reviews on any restaurant — you will come across a “sticker shock” comment. And it is not that the food is fantastic (with the exception of Swiss cheese), and so the price tag is justified: the Swiss beef I tucked into at a hotel restaurant was bereft of marbling and dry, and I had to shell out another CHF4 to get the accompanying sauce. So, save your moolah for the experiences, and book an AirBnb apartment where you can do your own cooking.

Swiss fountains

Free flow of water

Perhaps to make up for the exorbitant prices of the food, drinkable water is free. Water fountains abound in Switzerland, and you can drink the water to your heart’s content. Or refill your bottle with tap water. Definitely skip the bottled (and overpriced) water.

The road less travelled

Switzerland teems with tourists hailing from all over the world. Everyone wants a picture of the rolling hills and soaring snow-capped mountains. Because of the huge crowds, you often have to stop and wait for the human traffic to ease up when taking on trails such as the First Cliff Walk by Tissot, climbing mountains or dining at restaurants. As someone who values quietude, I would definitely research the hidden gems the next time I head back to Switzerland.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.

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