Backpacking through Europe: Switzerland

I began this post two days ago, on a dreary wet day in Fribourg, Switzerland while Keith lay in bed recovering from the stomach bug we both caught in Italy. This post originally began a bit harsh, but once Keith's energy returned and the sun came out yesterday, I had a new perspective on this beautiful area. Yesterday, our last day in Switzerland, was truly the day I fell in love with Fribourg. We arrived mid-afternoon this past Wednesday and per our usual routine, spent the next few hours walking the streets of old town. The funny thing is, I don't actually remember how I chose Fribourg. I researched Bern, Zermatt, Lucerne, St. Gallen, Murten and Interlaken. Bern was the city that Keith and I were both most interested in and made the most sense logistically coming from Italy and heading to Hungary. But when I started looking up accommodation options, I was a bit taken aback by the pricing. So then, I started looking for smaller, less expensive towns near Bern that also sounded pretty, but would mainly serve as a home base for us to travel into the city. And I guess that's how I found "one of the best maintained old cities in Switzerland".

On Wednesday afternoon, we checked into our hotel, the Best Western de la Rose. I booked both this hotel and our Florence hotel through the travel rewards site, Rocketmiles, so we get bonus points toward future trips while also getting double points on our Chase Sapphire reward card. The hotel has a lovely exterior and nicely sized rooms with deep bathtubs. It is also in the perfect location - in the upper part of old town just up the street from the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, across from the very modern art museum of Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint Phalle. It's also surrounded by wonderful restaurants, bars and small shops that are perfect to peek into as you explore the area. I'm not sure how I managed to do so much research on this trip and not be better prepared for the variation of languages, but we were expecting mainly German speakers here and were thankful to be able to fall back on our (very rudimentary) French school training. Our first day here, we layered up and braved the cold weather, quite different from Italy's temperate climate this time of year, and spent hours walking up and down the old cobbled streets. As you can imagine, Fribourg is beautiful! It actually reminds me of Edinburgh, but on a smaller scale, divided by the old and new town. If you visit, don't let the bland architecture and fast food restaurants surrounding the train station disappoint you. Follow the map instructions just outside the station a few blocks to old town, and suddenly the city transforms into lovely, narrow walkways with ornate fountains and statues at every turn. 

The hotel recommended a local restaurant for dinner our first night that's famous for the regional specialty, fondue. Unfortunately, as I'm lactose intolerant, fondue is not something I can eat, but the Cafe du Midi was a lovely, quaint restaurant in new town. We shared potatoes with melted gruyere, and chicken breast with skinny fries. It was delicious but maybe not the best meal with a stomach flu going around. The following day, we took another sick day while Keith recovered from his stomach flu episode and I went from pharmacy to various stores to find him gatorade, ibuprofen, broth and crackers. That was the hardest day for me here, since every time I ventured out of the hotel, I was either greeted with hail, sleet, or freezing gusts of wind. It was cold, dark, wet and I was a bit disappointed by the weather. But yesterday morning, our last day in Switzerland, we awoke to glorious blue skies and sunshine! We had originally planned to spend our last day in Bern, but since we hadn't had that much time in Fribourg yet, we stayed there instead. We started the day with coffee and a shared pain aux raisin in a small restaurant in the lower part of old town, then headed for the hills. When we first arrived, I spotted what appeared to be an old fortress and chapel on a hill overlooking the town, and before we left, we were determined to hike to it. We essentially just headed toward the general direction of that area, and somehow managed to eventually find a narrow road leading to the top and the Chapelle de Lorette. It's a beautiful, small chapel with tall, religious figurines carved into the outer walls and rests at the top of a hill with panoramic views of the area, beside a portion of the former wall that once surrounded the city. I highly recommend the uphill climb! 

We then proceeded through the enormous wooden doors of the old wall, past very modern, boxy homes on the outskirts of town, and took a right down a lightly graveled path we later learned was the Promenade Madeleine-Eggendorffer. It led us through trees and pastureland to a small town just outside Fribourg. We followed the Route de Bourguillon past the tiny, yet lovely church and cemetery of Notre Dame du Carmel, where we stumbled upon another pedestrian path. We continued down the 2 km Helsana Trail through the woods, past wide and hilly pastures, charming little Swedish farmhouses with red, green or brown shutters, and about 3/4 of the way through the trail, caught a glimpse of Fribourg through the valley far below. If I haven't said it enough, let me say once more, Switzerland is breathtaking! And, if for any reason you ever find yourself in Fribourg and take your own leisurely stroll down this trail, definitely try some of the stretches and exercises they have all along the path. Some of them were really funny (swinging your arms overhead and knee bends) and some were actually quite challenging (pull-ups and hurdles over wooden logs). We finished our leisurely stroll, and bonus exercises, and hastened back to Fribourg to check-out of our hotel. On our brisk walk back, we did manage a quick stop just outside town at DeVotre Bulanger Le Pain (a bakery and grocer) for a light lunch on the go of two locally grown plums and a single meringue-cherry dessert to share (made with a local liquer, Kirsch).  

We took the train to Zurich in the afternoon and spent four hours exploring it's old town and university, both surprisingly lovely and quaint for such a metropolitan city. And then spent a grueling 11-hrs on an overnight train to Budapest (more on that next time). I'm posting this after just checking in at our latest AirBNB accommodation, so we're heading out now for more exploring. I hope this post inspires some of you to make a future visit to the lovely country of Switzerland! Keith and I have already discussed our plan of going back within the next few years, during the warmer summer months, and hiking through the Alps. I have a good feeling that we'll be visiting at least one of the other cities I also researched at that point. Look forward to sharing photos from Budapest soon!