With it being clear that we will move back to Denver in late March, we chose to use vacation time at Christmas to stay in Europe rather than fly back home. Kevin had always wanted to go skiing in the Alps, so we jumped on a plane down to Zurich to start off our Swiss Alps adventure. Although our main destination was deep in the Alps, we figured Zurich was worth a few nights stay. Zurich is beautifully situated on the large picturesque Lake Zurich.
Zurich was one of the most expensive cities that we visited in all of Europe. This applied to hotels, food, and even the Christmas market that was still going on while we were there. Even though it wasn’t quite as impressive as some of the markets in Germany, it did have its nice touches—including an Alps-hut themed Raclette restaurant, and a stand which sold hollowed out baguette bread filled with Fondue cheese. There was also a “singing Christmas tree”, where about 25 kids sang Christmas carols in a Christmas tree shaped area.
The coolest place we visited in Zurich was the old city observatory. Located on top of one of the downtown-area buildings, this observatory is a unique feature as observatories work better when they are further away from cities; this was purely a luxury item to make star-gazing more obtainable.
After we left Zurich, we went to Interlaken, which literally means “between two lakes”. It is an absolutely beautiful town that sits and the edge of the Alps, particularly the Jungfrag region. It is a bit more touristy, evidenced by many signs and menus being also shown in Chinese—we did indeed see groups of Asian tourists. From there we headed up to a small town called Wengen and stayed for three nights. While it is on the edge of a skiing area, we went there for the natural beauty and relaxation.
One day, we took a day trip up to Jungfraujoch, which is a train station on top of one of the Alps mountains including an astronomical observatory, the Sphinx. It sits up on a glacier and provides breathtaking 360 degrees views. We highly recommend this winter wonderland for anyone travelling in the area.
In Wengen, we also took part in a beginner’s curling lesson. Curling is an amazing sport that Kevin has been dying to try out, and it constantly reminded of it every 4 years during the Winter Olympics. We both got the hang of it pretty quick, but there were some others there who had issues—the key is, when you push off and glide down the ice, before you throw the stone, you don’t put any weight on the stone—you actually use the broom as your second point of balance. If you do use the stone as a balancing item, when you throw it, you go flying. It’s actually a bit dangerous if you’re not paying attention! We played a practice game against another couple and held on for the win, but Deanna was actually the one who scored all of our points!
From Wengen, we travelled to Zermatt to spend Christmas and the next few days after. They are both similar cities in that they are small cities in the mountains, in a skiing region, with no cars allowed. However, Zermatt is clearly a step up in terms of luxury, and as a result, price. As it was Christmas, and out last major week long vacation in Europe, we did splurge a bit on the hotel. The view out of the hotel window of the Matterhorn was stunning—we spent hours just hanging out on the balcony with our view, and Kevin spent time at night and morning getting even more shots with different lighting.
As stated earlier, the prices were so high, it was best not to thing about it—but Fondue is actually always one of the more reasonable options, so we had that several times during our stay. The cheese was always exceptional, and being the tourist hotspot, we were always able to find gluten-free bread for Deanna. We even found a crepes stand there that had gluten-free batter! Of course, we had our fair share of Swiss chocolate as well—the hotel in Zermatt had a jar of it by the front desk that we always grabbed a piece or two of on the way in or out.
On Christmas day, we went skiing on the (small) Matterhorn—directly next to the Matterhorn, so you end up seeing it from all sides. The views were absolutely amazing. Deanna hadn’t skied in a really long time, so this was a bit of a challenge for her. The slopes are different from what we are used to in the Rockies—instead of wide slopes down with many different runs as options, they have long, winding, narrow runs that go all the way down the mountain, but as a result, are much much longer. Unfortunately the snow quality wasn’t great, but that’s not why we were there. The entire gondola ride to the top was about 30 minutes—that should give you an indication of how long it could take to ski down. At the very top, you ski on a glacier. From there, you have to choose—ski back down where you came from, or go down the other side—into Italy. Maybe a quick stop on that side for lunch? Coming up the Italy side, it was clear how little snow had fallen—heading up, if you didn’t know better, you would have sworn there was no way to ski down. But it had been at least cold enough to produce enough artificial snow to keep the runs open.
About mid-afternoon, Deanna was ready to go back, but Kevin wanted to do a few more runs. So Deanna started heading down slowly, and Kevin raced up and down a few times, and as he was ready to ski down, he bumped into his loving wife, clearly distraught. Unfortunately she had had a mixup or two and ended up almost back where she had started, and Kevin arrived just in time to bring her down the mountain.
Overall Switzerland was truly a magical place, if that is what you are looking for—gorgeous landscape and scenery, fine skiing and ski towns, and ridiculous prices. That’s probably what drives Germans to go to Austria rather than Switzerland for ski vacations.