15 Jul

The Alps

When you look over a Switzerland landscape, urban or rural, you have the feeling that you are watching a toy train maquete model of cities. Everything is so well trimmed and the attention to detail is accentuated like in a toy model. Besides the perfectly painted and clean house on clean streets where no detail is left to fate, the trains are running everywhere and you can watch like in a toy train models how they cross, stop and start, several at a time, all of different shapes and forms, climbing mountains or going in tunnels.

Busses, trucks, boats and cabins are all completing the landscape, all playing their role in perfect sync and precision, all being on time like in Japan and maybe asking themselves, “what the trains in other countries are doing to be late?”.

Switzerland is model of efficiency that you may hardly find in another country in the world maybe with the exception of Japan. I was watching one night in Luzern, mesmerized the paving of a large part of the road in the middle of the town, near the lake.

What draw my attention were the numerous people who were involved in the activity and that each and every person was moving with precision doing his job. Either by moving some machines for cutting the asphalt, or paving, or measuring, etc. nobody was sitting or talking or lingering with somebody else. If Breugel had painted the paving of the street in Luzern would have been one of his typical paintings with lots of people moving purposefully.

And this sense you have it everywhere you go, even in the French or the Italian part. People are efficient and they don’t look to be frustrated like they look in France all over the place. They may not be the friendliest people but if you ask you will be helped no matter what language they will speak. The Germans are well…German and you kind of expect this but the French look also helpful, way more than across the border and the Italians, vivant as usual, are noisy but a far cry of their neighbors from the south. The more south you go in Italy the level of noise increases….

No matter where you go the German spirit is embedded in things like the language that is prevalent all over the country, out of the German speaking area being always the second language.

The German spirit is obvious in the order that governs everything. Nothing is left unregulated and the most obvious is the traffic where the lanes are always precise, the traffic lights always work and the parking places are a national obsession. In Switzerland is no way to find a place where you can park and is not somehow regulated. There are precise number of parking places, all marked with blue for residents and yellow and/or white for public and ALL have a sort of meter limited in time based on location. The parking regulation obsession reaches its peak in the top of the mountains where around a cabin the parking has meters!!!  Parking garages are everywhere, all are automatic to the point that is nobody to explain if you don’t know what to do, all have a15 minute grace period and all are so clean that is embarrassing to think of their New York equivalent. In Tasch, the city where you park for Zermatt the parking garage was washed daily with detergent that your own soles were dirtier than the ground. And in spite of this apparent limitation you can find a parking spot if you drive around. All parking garages have a permanent display of the amount of places available all over the city and to park in them is roughly four times more expensive than to park on the street but is no limitation in time and also they have a flat after 8-10 hours. Overall the cost to park a full day is about CH20-30 similar with Manhattan.

The roads are in excellent condition and they maintain them continuously. The construction traffic is always regulated by traffic lights even for less than 100 meters and nobody crosses the light but they wait diligently even if is night and no car is in sight. Very few steal the yellow and I hope that I did not do it too often and get a ticket in the mail. The traffic light is so embedded in their spirit that there are mounted in the narrow stairs of the cathedral tower where visitors climb to look over the city. And tourist wait, up or down till they get the green light!!!!

Being so well organized you are not surprised that the roads are so well marked. There are signs well placed everywhere that even without a GPS you can reach by yourself anywhere with minimum or no help at all.

As expected in this kind of order the hotels are top even if they are at the bottom of the scale. But the prices are high everywhere you go at a minimum of $200/night for a double and the offer, way higher than in Norway, is still under the level of Germany or Austria as number of rooms. When you cross the border in the Euro zone you get the same room for about half price or just a little more. The major deal, if you can get it , is to stay in private houses whose prices can be a third of a similar hotel room. In general the owners rent only for two nights but we did not have issues and got these kinds of rooms. However they are prevalent in the German speaking area and mainly in the mountains. For sure they are not so obviously displayed in the French or Italian speaking area.

At the parity with the high prices for the hotels are the restaurants where served food is at, sometimes, ridiculous costs. On the chalk boards, in front of the restaurants, where it is usually advertised something to enter the restaurant for, you can see turkey sandwich with fries for CH23.50 that may add up to US$28!!! As a result ANY dinner, no matter how basic it may be would drain for about $100. However the food in supermarket is reasonable, relatively close to the normal Euro and US prices.

By far, the most interesting part of Switzerland are the mountains. The peaks and the glaciers are a treat that should not be missed. Trains, with or without cogs, are crossing the mountains, outside but mainly completely underground, in tunnels that take you from the base of the mountains and bring you through the mountain, underground, all the way to the top. Beside them are lots of telecabins to the point that any part of the mountain can be reached by anybody. The cost of all this mountain transportation is relatively high but what you get for it is worth it ten times of what you paid. The accessibility to nature beauty for everybody has its worthy cost.

If I have to take a pick of the best spots in Switzerland, any mountain peak in a clear day would win over anything else. The cities are OK but not great, even the famously financial center of Zurich being still a little dull and low in expectations.

The French cities on the Lake Leman are worth a visit mainly because of their proximity to the lake. Montreux is alive, maybe because we caught it during the Jazz festival and Geneva with its river, lake and canals has a charm but looks very bourgeois. In any case a visit on that part would not be worth it without a cruise on lake Leman that is really beautiful. From the boat you can admire the coast with its villages and the vineyards and lots of transportation moving through them like toys. Also from there you can see that absolutely no spot is wasted, everything has something planted or built on it. In this sense something that cannot stop to impress in this age of outsourcing is to see lots of factories, small and efficient, all over the country along the roads. Their number is so high that you have a sense that still is hope that something still can be manufactured outside of China.The Italian part has fewer things to see than its beautiful location on the lakes.

But no matter what, Swizerland is quite of an experience to visit. The sense of order probably may be too obsessive for many who stay there. The feeling that the entire society is completely regulated made a guy I met in New York to state “Switzerland is the most democratic police state in the world”.

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Posted by on July 15, 2011 in Blog, Switzerland


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