Unless you are a skier, there's no better time to visit Switzerland than the few weeks before Christmas. We started in the capital city of Bern, ended in Basel, and sandwiched Zurich in between. All three cities were bright with sparkling lights, alive with Christmas Markets, and full of the all-around positive vibe that is Christmas in Europe. The train ride from to Bern took us right over - and sometimes through - the Alps. Our shots from the train window do no justice to the views. On the train we lunched on a 1/2 bottle of Barbera d'Alba and a couple of "Kebab Piadini" (gyro roll-ups) and passed the time chatting with three travelers from St. Louis who were gushing about sites they'd seen in Germany.
We arrived in Bern and settled into the Max Aviation Villa & Apartments that we booked through Hotels.com (the pickings were slim in Switzerland on AirBnB). In the morning we set out on a walk in the soft snowflakes. We discovered a trail through the woods along the Aare river, crossed a bridge toward the parliament building, and went into the old town for a late breakfast at Kaffee Montag. Where else might you see an ancient sewer system at work through the glass floor of a bathroom?
We were on a mission to find a star for the top of Laura & Mark's Christmas tree, so we visited some nice shops and Christmas Market stalls. We also saw some unique things along the way:
Bern was the home of the artist Paul Klee and right near our apartment was the Paul Klee Center. It was a great visit - as interesting for its architecture as for its collection.
Our reward for another 20,000 step day was a home-cooked meal in our well-equipped kitchen. Then we were off the next day for a another train ride to Zurich. It was Friday the 13th and sure enough our travel plans were messed up when we realized that Richard had purchased tickets for Sunday by mistake - a sad $76 error because "supersaver" tickets are for a specific date and time...oops.
At the Zurich Tain station we saw our first Dunkin' in Europe! It was a short walk to the Hotel Old Town that we booked mainly for its location, but it turned out better than we expected - there was a Christmas tree right outside our window. The hotel lived up to its name - we were right in the heart of the Old Town, pedestrians only, and just steps away from one of the many Christmas Markets that were scattered around the city.
Zurich was in full Holiday mode. Our reward for sampling the "Glühwein" (hot mulled wine) at the Christmas Market was the "Singing Christmas Tree".
For dinner we enjoyed a nice discount at our hotel's steakhouse. The rack of lamb cam on a sizzling hot stone. We sliced and grilled our meat to perfection.
At the store called Depot we found the perfect star for Laura & Mark and dashed off to the post office to get it in the mail - fingers crossed it makes it for Christmas. Then it was off to the Kunsthaus, Zurich's art museum, passing lovely shops and austere Protestant churches along the way. After an Aperol Spritz and a glass of wine in the Museum cafe we strolled the galleries and discovered the brilliant German artist Wilhelm Leibl. On the way home Richard tried the Swiss Burger King french fries to get Nancy access to their bathroom. More Glühwein, a stop at the Äss-Bar (a bakery actually - we just had to try it), before settling in to watch a few episodes of "Kerry Girls" and "The Morning Show" on the laptop.
On our final day in Zurich we took one last stroll through the city and realized we'd walked into the annual Zürcher Silverserlauf - an all ages road race that winds through the maze of streets. Then we hopped a train to the airport to pick up a rental car for the next leg of our journey. The train station was filled with the aromas of gingerbread, sausage, glühwein, and cheese at a bustling indoor Christmas Market. The show stopper was the giant Christmas tree sparkling with thousands of Swarovski crystals. At the airport we heard a college choir singing carols, led by a soprano dressed as Santa Lucia. We loaded up our VW Polo and headed northwest to Basel.
Surprise! Basel has the best Christmas Markets we've seen! Hugely popular with families who can't resist the aromas of roasting meats, baked sweets, fondue, raclette, and more glühwien! We escape the elbow-to-elbow crowds only to discover a second market down a cobble-stoned street that was dedicated to hands-on artisan activities for children to create holiday gifts: candle dipping, jewelry making, wood carving, and even blacksmithing.
We crossed the river to escape the crowds and found a small bar called Consum with live music - a jazz singer and guitarist. A Swiss Pinot Noir was the perfect accompaniment to the Winter-Plättli - a charcuterie plate that included boiled potatoes! After two sets we headed back on the tram for a FaceTime session with Laura & Mark.
Our one night in Basel (at Apaliving Budgethotel) was a pleasant stop-over that served much more than just breaking up the drive from Zurich to Nancy in France.
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Nancy McCabe &