I know time is money and all that, so if this is too verbose for your liking, here’s a TLDR: Switzerland is really beautiful!
Day 17, June 29th, Bern to Aeschi, 55km
Today’s route was very scenic, even by Swiss standards. Battling through strong winds and occasional rain showers I followed the Aare River upstream out of Bern, heading back towards the Alps. I rode through farms and forests, across suspension bridges and alongside lakes, and finally struggled up to a village on the side of a valley, where I spent the night. It was probably the most scenic place I’ve stayed in on the trip so far, a nice change from all the towns and cities.
There were more jets flying overhead, and gunshots ringing out wile I passed through the forests. Switzerland is a strangely militaristic country. National service is still compulsory for men, and since most conscripts are given a rifle to keep when they finish, gun ownership is higher than most other European countries. Fortunately, I’m told buying ammunition is very difficult, so most of these weapons are effectively souvenirs.
Day 18, June 30th, Aeschi to Thun via Murren, 88km
3:52pm – I’m sat on the side of a mountain in the Alps, about 1600m above sea level. That sounds like a lot, but the peak is probably twice as high still. Apparently there was a James Bond movie filmed up there, but in Switzerland cable car journeys cost three months wages in the UK, so I won’t be going up.
In front me across the valley are huge mountains, the nearest of which seems little more than a gigantic, vertical rockface. Obscured by trees are even taller peaks, still covered with snow, which just seems weird in mid Summer. It’s a cool reminder that I’m right inside Europe’s biggest mountain range. To think it stretches all the way from here to Slovenia…
Well, the clouds are rolling in and I’m getting cold. Time to get going back towards Thun, where I’ll be staying the next two nights. It’s another detour back the way I came but, but needs must! There’ll be about 1000m of descent from here down to Interlaken so it should be a spectacular ride.
OK, so the journey back did not go exactly as I’d planned it. A thunderstorm struck while I was right in the middle of the route down the mountain. It was the first time on the trip I’d been caught in the rain, and it was as unpleasant an experience as I’d expected.
The rain, when it got going, was torrential, and there were no buildings to shelter beneath. I tried to plough on to the bottom, but the saturated road was so slippery that the bike slipped away from me away at one point, so I thought better of it. All I could do was wrap my bags with their supposedly waterproof covers, stand beneath a tree, and just wait for it to end. Turns out my idea to poke three holes into and wear a bin bag really isn’t the wet weather solution I anticipated…
When the rain eased after perhaps half an hour I set off again, but after less than an hour another thunderstorm rolled in, and this one wasn’t in a hurry to get going. Fortunately, I found a tunnel above Lake Thun to shelter inside, but I had to wait for a couple of hours for the rain to cease. I slouched there by the side of the road in the gloomy, cold tunnel, clad in my holey bin bag, occasionally snoozing and perhaps looking like a homeless person. Ah, the glamour of international travel…
Day 19, July 1st, Thun
I did nothing worth writing about today, so let me fill the space with a few Swiss facts!
- German Swiss people outnumber the French Swiss by about 3:1. Apparently, they vote much more conservatively in the numerous referendums, with the French part being compartively liberal. The small Italian population in the south was described to me as being “pretty racist”!
- Switzerland only gave women the vote in 1971. One part of the country didn’t allow it until 1991!
- About 1 in 4 people living in Switzerland are foreign born
- Perhaps I’m getting this wrong, because Swiss politics is complicated- but as I understand it they have a seven person council that shares the presidency, rotating every year
- Medical marijuana is legal here. In fact, I saw them selling it in a cafe and the customers didn’t look in ill health at all!
- The German dialect spoken in Switzerland is so different to that of regular German that it’s largely unintelligible to people across the border in Germany and Austria
Day 20, July 2nd, Thun to Frutigen, 34km
Another relatively short day on the bike. It rained all morning and the clouds hung low in the sky all afternoon, so my hopes of getting up into the mountains were scuppered once again. After all the blazing heat back in France it’s amazing how chilly it has become lately.
Even with the glum weather, it’s hard to subdue the Swiss scenery. In fact, the clouds partly added to the beauty, swirling around beneath the mountain peaks. It was a short but pleasant ride up through the valleys, passing yet more farms and valleys. Most of the buildings in this part of the country seem to be made of wood- it’s all pretty much as you’d probably picture the Swiss countryside to be.
Day 21, July 3rd, Frutigen to Oeschinen Lake and back, 26km
Today’s kilometre count was a deceptively small one. Even though I only cycled 13km each way, the road climbed from a starting point of around 800m to 1,200m, and from there I had to walk up to the spectacular, mile-high Oeschinen Lake. Every time I think Switzerland can’t get more stunning, I go to a new place that trumps the previous one.
I couldn’t resist going for a swim, even though the the water was entirely fed by snow melt from the huge peaks surrounding the lake. It didn’t feel especially cold, but the fact that I sat shivering for the best part of an hour after getting out suggests it was doing strange things to my body!..
Cycling back down the steep valley was a lot of fun. The speedometer peaked at 59.9km, my attempts to cross into the 60s for the first time falling annoyingly short. At one point the road went through a long tunnel, and I was travelling so fast I didn’t feel comfortable stopping to put the lights on or take off my sunglasses. I spent a scary minute zooming through, praying there were no hidden bumps in the road ready to catch me unaware, before reemerging into the light.
Day 22, July 4th, Frutigen to Lucerne, 114km
Well, after days of trepidation, turns out today’s journey wasn’t as awful as I expected. Expectations of disaster probably helped actually- when you’re half expecting to keel over with exhaustion halfway up a beasty hill, merely surviving feels like a positive!
The route was probably the most scenic I’ve cycled so far, passing five separate lakes with their impossibly turquoise waters sparkling in the sunlight. I spent an hour battling up a long, long hill, but hey, that’s just the rough to take with the smooth of the scenery.
The long run down the other side of the valley was rather fun, at least until I had my first run-in with the Swiss police. For the second day in a row I found myself in a rather scary road tunnel, this one lasting a couple of kilometres. Turns out you’re not supposed to do this in Switzerland. I stood sheepishly by the side of the road with the pair of coppers, fearing a hefty fine. In a country with such stratospheric prices, I half expected a payment so large I’d have to sell the bike to fund it, so paying £25 for my oversight didn’t seem too unreasonable.
Thing is, I’m pretty much out of the Alps now, so I suppose I’ll not have many more opportunities to demonstrate my newfound tunnel avoidance techniques. I’ll miss all those mountains and lakes, the rivers tumbling down the valleys, the quaint wooden-housed villages, and all the charming town names: Kandersteg, Frutigen, Lauterbrunnen, Grindelwald et al.
Day 23, July 5th, Lucerne
Today was ostensibly a rest day, but since I ended up climbing a mountain I now feel more tired than I did the day before! I met up with an old friend of mine I met six years ago in Turkey, and together we headed up a tall peak near Lucerne. The contrast in the landscape on either side was huge: on one side, a row of vast, snow capped Alps; on the other, rolling hills and plains blending into the hazy horizon.
I spent the afternoon looking around Lucerne. It’s a really lovely city, thanks to its historic buildings and spectacular location, but unfortunately for us solitude-afficianados it would appear the rest of the world knows it. I’ve never been to a city so dominated by Asian tourists! They’re coming from all over the place: China, Korea, India, the Arab countries… I’d guess half of the people I came across in the city centre were Asians on a package tour, invariably posing for a photo in front of some landmark.
Day 24, July 6th, Lucerne to Zurich, 65km
Today’s route was short and relatively flat, but it still seemed to drag on a bit. The sun was blazing, the bike path was mainly rough gravel which gets annoying quickly, and there wasn’t all that much to see. Though now that I think of it, there were more lakes, rivers and forests, and distant snow capped Alps. I suppose i’ve just become a bit spoilt. After all the amazing scenery I’ve been treated to in recent weeks it’ll take a bit of time to reset my expectations and learn to appreciate simple countryside again!
I suppose the main problem was just a lack of motivation, a day that I didn’t really want to be on the bike. Mentally I just wasn’t in the mood, and physically I was still aching from all my exertions of the previous days. I’m beginning to realise the importance of having a really lazy rest day every so often to recharge the batteries- and that’s exactly what I’m planning for tomorrow!
Day 25, July 7th, Zurich
Like all cities in Switzerland, Zurich is lovely. It’s not hard to see why it always ranks so highly in the global livability indexes. Everything is ridiculously expensive, of course, but then most locals presumably earn enough to live comfortably.
There are three reasons why I’ve not bankrupted myself by spending a fortnight in this most costly of countries. First, I’m indebted to all the people who have welcomed me, a stranger, into their homes, and given me a place to stay for a night or two. Then there’s the bike, saving me from the exorbitant train fairs. And finally, I’m so glad the German budget supermarkets Aldi and Lidl are present here too, feeding me for days for a prices that wouldn’t buy a single meal in a restaurant!
As planned I’m being as sedentary as possible so far today, and I feel much better for it. Yesterday I walked along the river, lined with thousands of people sunbathing and swimming, and I think I’ll join them later. That’s another cool thing about Switzerland, there are so many great places to go for a dip outdoors! Oh, those lucky Swiss…
Day 26, July 8th, Zurich to Konstanz, 121km
Quite a few things went wrong today…
– I broke my phone seconds before I was due to set off.
– I wasted 90 minutes trying in vain to fix it.
– I ended up taking the wrong route northwards.
– Once I found the cycle route to Germany I started following it the wrong way.
– The ever-darkening skies finally dumped the inevitable thunderstorm on me and I had to cycle towards lightning bolts that seemed quite certain to kill me.
– The day took so long it was almost dark when I finished.
Rather than just wallowing in misery, I would also like to point out a few positives from the day:
– When I arrived in Konstanz, just over the German border, mercifully I had a Warm Showers host for the evening, meaning a nice meal, a shower, and a comfy bed.
– I got to see Europe’s biggest waterfall the Rheinfalls. Not exactly Niagrara, but there were some great viewing points to see the ferocity of the water up close.
– I passed through yet more lovely little Swiss towns and villages. I’ll miss this country!
– Cycling in the rain in those final hours, in a push to finish before nightfall, was actually quite a memorable experience. The rain was teeming, yet the sun was shining across the lake from beneath the clouds as it sank towards the horizon. A memorable way to finish my Swiss odyssey.