Story and photos by Barbara Angelakis

House with murals

Switzerland an Overview

Switzerland is a small county tucked in between France to the West, Germany to the North, Italy in the South, and Austria to the East. Based on its geographical position adjacent to these other countries there are three official languages - plus English, that is is wildly spoken.

Far from being an exotic destination, Switzerland is nevertheless ideal for the independent traveler who is looking for stunningly beautiful scenery; wonderful year long outdoor adventures; charming old world cities with striking architecture; clean streets and smooth byways; friendly people always willing to offer assistance; great museums and cultural institutions… and let us not forget, delicious cuisine!

Switzerland train station Zurich

Plus Switzerland has the most amazing transportation system! It is surely one of, if not the absolute best, in the world. The transportation system is like a well-programmed dance, with modern, clean, frequent and punctual bus, tram, ferry and trains, following one after the other in a perfectly coordinated sequence. Here every major city is reachable from any other in an hour or less. If the distance is greater than an hour by regular conveyance mode, a high speed train will whisk you to your destination in the allotted hour or as close as technologically possible. Another major plus is that all airports are reachable by train. Train stations in all cities are modern, well-lit, with necessary facilities that are clean and safe. In the larger towns the stations contain every conceivable type of shopping opportunity and convenience, with many connected to shopping malls. They seem to be always filled with people but never congested, an amazing feat given the number of travelers that pass through on a daily basis. The signage is meticulous and readable in several languages for locals as well as tourists who are highly encouraged to use the transit system to cut down on vehicular traffic.

It is easy to navigate in Switzerland, especially if you have the Swiss Travel Pass. It provides local public transportation, unlimited train, bus and boat travel, including mountain excursions, and free admission to more than 500 museums throughout the country, including Travel Guide apps to self-guide you during your stay.

For Americans who have no concept of a public transportation system anything like the Swiss have, navigating in Switzerland may be somewhat intimidating. Switzerland, unlike America, was early on devoting resources to support public-use infrastructure rather than building a massive road system to support the automobile industry. Of course Switzerland is tiny in comparison, but America is the only major country without a network of high-speed trains or in fact a domestic, countrywide, well functioning, public transit system. A realization made all the more shocking by my most recent trip to Switzerland.

Whenever you ask directions the Swiss have a peculiar way of responding by indicating the number of minutes it will take you to get to your destination. They seem to know the exact number of minutes you need either by walking, bus, train or tram. It always amused me to be told it’s a 4 minute walk to my hotel or it’s a 12 minute bus ride to my destination or 7 minutes if I choose to travel by train instead of bus. I don’t know of any other culture that counts directions in that manner and amazingly they were usually correct. Most likely because locals travel mostly on foot, by bike, or public transportation, consequently the cities are never clogged with cars or suffering from the nasty pollution byproduct. But caution is still required as bicyclists give no quarter and speed past pedestrian’s hell bent on two wheels.  Perhaps the safest place is in the street as vehicles come to a screeching halt to let pedestrians cross; a traffic imperative strongly adhered to. As a New Yorker, initially I found it a bit unnerving to step off the curb into oncoming traffic with total confidence that vehicles will stop until you have safely navigated the crossing.

I highly recommend that you pack lightly and choose hotels near transit hubs when visiting Switzerland because unlike many other tourist destinations, except perhaps Venice, there are less car services available and most people walk or take public transportation carrying their own suitcase. Of course you can make prior arrangements with your hotel for transport, usually 4- and 5- star properties can accommodate, but then you would miss out on the experience of “being” in the country as opposed to visiting it.

I also found that good walking shoes are an imperative.

Covered Bridge

To explore the old quarters of alleyways and winding, meandering streets you need to walk – often over cobblestoned pavements - and seek out the special hidden delights each city has to offer. In Lucerne, serendipitously every corner reveals decorative paintings covering buildings; some new, but most hundreds of years old and still beautifully maintained. Outstanding also are the unique covered bridges connecting the two sides of the ancient city, with their ages old paintings on interior frames that support the ceiling.

Bern Clock Vertical

Bern’s medieval Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and from the Zytglogge (clock tower) all the way to the river, along the entire length of the main thoroughfare are decorated statues brightly painted adorning still-potable fountains, many dating back to the 16th century.

Bern Bears

Its covered loggias (walkways) are the longest in Europe and provide protection to walkers from weather and traffic alike. Painted Statues are also attached to buildings from which colorful flags wave in the breeze.  If you traverse the entire street, at the end, you will find the famous bear park honoring the animal from which Bern derived its name.

If Bern is considered the city of statues than Basel should be considered the city of art. Everywhere one looks are buildings decorated with paintings and sometimes figurines like those adorning the Toy Museum.

Basel Art Museum Modern Section

There are art galleries and museums galore; from the world-class Kunstmuseum (art museum) with its impressive collection of impressionist paintings and unparalleled collection of medieval religious art,

Basel Jewish Museum

to the Jewish Museum of Switzerland in Basel with 13th century Jewish tombstones on display in the open air courtyard. The tombstones are the sole survivors of the Jewish presence in the city during the 12th and 13th centuries.

In Zurich walking along its massive eponymous lake, we passed Bell Epoch and Art Nouveau buildings - one more spectacular than the next - a treat for anyone captivated, like I am, by beautiful architecture. An Old Town walking tour will take you up to the panoramic city view from Lindenhof plaza overlooking the Limmat River that separates the two sides of the city.

Zurich Shagal Windoes

Not to be missed are the Chagall windows at the Fraumünster Church.

Switzerland Geneva Lakeside

Our introduction to Geneva was our first chance to view the sharp jagged edges of the Alps piecing the clouds that are more like fields of deep snow than high flying atmospheric formations. Geneva is a modern thriving town positioned around its eponymous lake but it still holds ancient secrets such as the 800 year old St. Peter’s Cathedral which sits over an active archeological dig.

This site dates as far back as 2,000 years as a place of worship, first for Allobroges (a Celtic tribe), through pagan Roman, medieval Catholic, to current Reformed Church.  And no visit to Geneva would be complete without a stop at the magnificent Patek Philippe {watch} Museum. Known as one of the premier watchmakers in the world this extraordinary collection is mindboggling. (link to Geneva story)

By all means take in the charm of the cities, especially their delightful Old Towns, but make sure to get into the countryside and the mountains. We chose Mt. Rigi out of Lucerne and wish we had more time to cable car up - or funicular down - or ferryboat across - to several more.

A short 10 minute walk from our hotel the Wilden Mann (see article) took us to the Pier 1 ferry slip opposite the main train station. The sleek, modern, well designed ship allowed for maximum viewing of the mountains that we passed on our short journey to the tiny town of Vitznau. After a few minutes the cog-wheel tram pulled in and we clambered aboard for the exhilarating ride straight up Rigi Mountain. On the way down we stopped for a horse and buggy ride along a mountain pass and caught the next tram back to Vitznau for the connecting ferry ride to Lucerne.  It worked like clock-work… just like the other industry Switzerland excels in.

Bern Street Statue

Switzerland conjures images of numbered bank accounts; exquisite watches; unparallel efficiency; alpine skiing; cheese fondue; extreme chocolates; and yodeling. And yes it is all of that but much, much more… a wonderful destination to explore and enjoy.

For overall information visit:
For the Swiss Travel System visit: 
For a Geneva visit: 
For a Zurich visit: htpps://
For Lucerne visit: htpps://
For Bern visit: htpps://
For Basel visit: htpps://www,

For Patek Philippe Museum visit:
For the Jewish Museum of Bern visit:
For the Art Museum of Basel visit:




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