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Switzerland

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Switzerland was in my wishlist to visit since a couple of years ago. Some friends moved there and had invited me, and a Toastmasters Conference provided the perfect excuse to spend a few days visiting this beautiful, small and extremely expensive country. 10 days had to do it, starting in Zurich visiting Elena and Hendrick, and ending in Winterthur with the Toastmasters conference.

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When I organized the days in between, I selected several cities to visit and only one mountain spot. After having seen them, I regret I had not put more mountain destinations in the agenda. Switzerland is really well organised for the travellers, and even solo travellers as me. Trains are expensive, but somehow affordable with some planning ahead, and you can get anywhere (even to the actual mountains) thanks to their dense network, which works like a Swiss clock.

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When in Rome, do as the Romans do… and so we did as the Swiss do: we went hiking to a mountain. In this case, we started with Mount Pilatus in Luzern: which was my first experience with the Swiss Alps, where mountains welcomes thousands of visitors, especially from Asia, who want to get as high as possible, with the least effort… And they can do it: it is just a matter of money. Most mountains have a cablecar which takes you to the summit or to any intermediate stop, for a ridiculous amount of money. In the information office, you receive a map with all the possible routes, which are clearly marked on ground too.

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We took the cablecar to an intermediate station and walked up to the next one. The main goal was not climbing to the summit, but getting to see the Lake Lucerne. We succeeded, and enjoyed lunch in a remote part of the track with amazing views. When we reached the upper station, we also had some fun riding the longest sommerroddelbahn (a dry toboggan, where you ride a wheeled cart) in Switzerland, before the rain took the scene and we had to go back by cablecar.

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The day after, it was time to visit Zurich, although the day was not very pleasant (cloudy, cold and even rainy), and that did influence my perception of the city: just another German-like one, except for the huge lake (Zurichsee), which provides the city with an extra dose of charm. Our walk included Banhofstrasse, with all the extremely-expensive shops were lined up; walk up to Lindenhof to enjoy an interesting view of the city, and the mandatory visit to the main churches in the Fraumünster, Grössmünster and St.Peterskirche, which has the biggest clock in Europe (where else!?).

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In the evening, we climbed Uetliberg, which is one of the mountains surrounding Zurich, with a good view over the city. Actually, we took a train to the summit, and we walked down back, climbing one mountain per weekend is already a lot.

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After Zurich, I headed to Lausanne, a beautiful city by the Geneva lake. It has a nice city centre with plenty of slopes. It was a grey day and I devoted the morning to the Olympic museum, which I do recommend to everybody. During the afternoon, walking around the city, suddenly the sun found some space among the clouds, and locals started to enjoy every minute of sunshine as they could, like that girl who spontaneously sat on the grass with her coffee-to-go for a few minutes before resuming her way back to work or school.

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Then, I took a train towards Interlaken, and this was probably the most beautiful train route from all the ones I saw. The tracks were on the upper part of a hill that started in the lake and that was full of vineyards, the sun was setting, and the local commuters had that face of tiredness and relax of those who finish a long working day.

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Interlaken was the highlight of the week there: a small town between two lakes, and really close to the some of the highest mountains in Switzerland, and with all kind of activities to do (hiking, climbing, skiing, paragliding, …).

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There are hundreds of hiking routes, so I decided to follow an advice I got in Zurich, and went for the Valley of the 52 Waterfalls: 6 km in a valley with the cliffs, typically formed by a glacier, and with waterfalls everywhere.

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At the end of the valley, I took a cablecar to Schilthorn, a peak at almost 3000 metres where I could enjoy the breathtaking of three mountains over 4000 metres (Tiger, Münch and Jungfrau) emerging from a sea of clouds. This place happened to be under construction when a James Bond movie asked them to record part of it there, and the movie investment was the last boost it needed.

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On my way back, I took a different path, stopped in Mürren and walked back on the upper part of the cliffs through the trees, in a route of 7 km with a significant slope down.

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Before arriving to Winterthur, there was time for a stop in Lucerne, this time with a more city tourism approach. Lucerne is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Switzerland, and I do agree on this evaluation: difficult to compete with a medieval town in such a wonderful location, amid high mountains, and at the lakeside… Lucerne is an easy spot to visit, as the size is not very big, but its city centre, the Musseg Wall and the Chapel Bridge do deserve some time to wander and enjoy.

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The last stop was Winterthur, which hosted the Toastmasters conference. Winterthur is a city north of Zurich, whose main highlights are some art and photo museums (which i could not visit as the only free day was Monday) and the revitalised Sulzer factory which is now home of offices and plenty of different businesses.

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Although I had saved Monday to visit the city, we ended up in a small tour to two interesting spots near the German border: the Rheinfall, Europe’s largest plain waterfalls, and Stein am Rhein, a cozy and well-preserved medieval town near the Lake Constance, which made it a perfect climax for this interesting trip to a new country.

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