Tag Archives: germany

Exploring Switzerland

23 Jul

Some of my expat friends complain when family members or friends come to stay with them in Switzerland because it means that they have to entertain them and find suitable things to do with them.

I have no such problem. When people come and visit it means that I can explore Switzerland more and go to back to places that I like and would like to visit again.

As my mother has been visiting for the past week, I have been back to some of my favourite places and have seen some parts of Switzerland that I have not been to before. Earlier this week we went to Konstanz in Germany and Luzern. The trip to Konstanz was an out-and-out shopping trip. Lots of people who live in Switzerland take a trip over the border to shop and it is a lot cheaper than in Switzerland. Last time my mum was here, we also took a day trip to Konstanz. We took the train because there was a cheap fare available. I have found out that going with another person means that you can carry twice as much back. The weather was lovely and we did manage to snap up a few bargains. My fridge is the fullest it has been for a long time and I managed to buy a new pair of Nike trainers for less than 70 Euros.

We also enjoyed lovely weather in Luzern, while we wondered around the Old Town and had a look in some of the shops. There is a beautiful lake in the centre of the city but unfortunately we didn’t have time to take a boat trip on the lake. Hopefully, we can take a trip there next time.

We also took the Bernina Express. This was a first for me and was something that I was looking forward to even since I booked the trip. The Bernina Express is a train/bus journey starting in Chur which travels through the mountains and across the border into Tirano in Italy. From there, there is a bus which travels from Tirano through Italy, along the coast of Lake Como and to Lugano, in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland.

On Thursday we got up really early to travel from Zürich to get to Chur in time to make the Bernina Express at 08.32. The train was comfortable and had the advantage of having panoramic windows so that you can see the whole of the mountains from your seat. The scenery was spectacular: green fields, glaciers, farm houses, gushing rivers. The weather was a little bit overcast, as you can see from the pictures, but I think that this just added to the mysterious nature of the mountains.


I guess one of the disadvantages of public travel is other passengers. We were unfortunate to be sitting next to a woman who loved the sound of her own voice and had to comment on everything for four and a half hours. It takes that Hollywood shine off the majestic landscape with someone saying “Oh isn’t it lovely?” in a really strong South African accent. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site so lovely doesn’t even cover it.

We arrived in Tirano and found our hotel. The town was lovely. The architecture is so different from Switzerland and the atmosphere and mentality is slightly different as well, which is strange considering how close we were to Switzerland. It was quickly apparent that there was not a lot to do in the town and we had walked from end to end within about 20 minutes. 24 hours was definitely too long to stay in the town, especially when there was only one restaurant that was open in the evening. It was as if the town only existed at midday when the majority of the tourists were arriving for a few hours and then leaving on trains to get to somewhere else.

Nevertheless, it was a relaxing time, walking around the town and soaking in the atmosphere. We can also say that we ate the worse lasanga of our lives in the evening. And, yes, this was Italy. Luckily there was a nice bar that we found (I think the only bar that we had seen the whole time we were there) and we could enjoy some nice beers and snacks.


The next day we took the bus from Tirano, across Italy to Lugano, Switzerland. I was a little bit disappointed by this leg of the trip because of the iterinary. I imagined that we would stop at Lake Como as we drove through Italy so that we could at least take a phtoto but we stopped before the start of the lake to have a coffee and use the toilet and then carried on straight through. Because we were on the right hand side of the coach, we didn’t get to appreciate the view of the lake (which was on the left hand side).

We arrived in Lugano in the early evening and took the train to the hotel that we were staying in. Because of the remoteness of the hotel, we then had to take a taxi to get up to the hotel. I hadn’t realised until a few days before we were due to travel that there were only 2 buses up to the hotel each day. So if you missed them, it was taxi time! It was a bit of a pain but the views of the Lake Lugano were stunning. Overall, I wasn’t so impressed with the hotel and I am still debating about whether to write a formal complaint about our stay. I am not sure what it will achieve which is why I am hesitating but as some of the service was not as I expected, I think that I will be writing in the next day or so. If it falls on deaf ears, so be it.

The next day we took the bus back down the mountain. To the delight of my mum, the bus had an unusual horn which is specific to Switzerland. You can hear it yourself here. The sound of the horn was definitely needed as the bus made it’s way down the mountain side.

We spent the morning and the early afternoon exploring Lugano. The lake is spectaular and lots of people were enjoying the excellent weather by hiring boats and pedalos. The town itself is not very big but it was nice to get lost in the many intertwining cobbled streets and sitting out in the sunshine to get some Vitamin D.


We arrived back in Zürich in the early evening. Just in time to enjoy dinner on the balcony before a huge storm, with epic thunder and lightning, hit. So much for the good weather lasting…

Operation Full Immersion

8 Jan

Operation Full Immersion will begin in T minus 1 week. I’m a bit scared. This isn’t some swimming challenge, although it sounds like it could be. Operation Full Immersion means me going to Germany a week to just learn and speak German. For the whole week. Alone. Gulp!

The reasons for going are twofold. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly is that it is a lot cheaper to learn German in Germany than it is in Switzerland. Everything in Switzerland costs more than anywhere else in the world (or most places at least) and German lessons are no exception. The cost of intensive group lessons for one week (about 20 hours) and 6 individual private lessons in Germany costs the same as 6 private lessons in Switzerland. It’s a no-brainer. I know that you might be thinking that I am probably getting ripped off for my lessons here but that’s not the case at all. All lessons are around the same price. Also I would also say that cheap lesson here are cheap for a reason.

The second reason is I can just concentrate on learning with no distractions. I have two lessons a week in Switzerland and practice as much as I can during the week but with commitments like work and a social life it is difficult to stay focused on becoming fluent in a language is hard. It’s really hard in fact. One week when I only have to think about learning will accelerate my learning, at least I hope it will.

I was thinking about bringing some English books with me to read in the evening and to relax with but I think this defeats the object – full immersion means full immersion. The whole point is to leave every thing English behind and just go for it. So that is what I am going to do. Speak, think and dream in German. When I put it like that it doesn’t sound like so much fun, does it? I will make one except to the no English rule though. I think it will be a good experience and an interesting experience to blog about my time there to see how I progress. So, I will be bringing my laptop with me and you can join me to see how the experience pans out.

The German city that I will be going to is Munich. It is not a city I have been to before, even though we seem to be familiar with the city a lot in the UK. I know a lot about Munich from events surrounding the war, the Oktoberfest, the Munich air disaster involving the Manchester United football team and, more recently, terrorist attacks but not a lot else. It will be interesting to see what it really is like but I don’t have any expectation about what it will be really like. Of course, the stereotypical image of a Bavarian man with a gravity-defying mustache, wearing Lederhosen and drinking a Mass of beer (one litre) does spring to mind but I am sure that all Bavarians can’t be like that.