This winter I found myself in Switzerland, the land of wondrous nature, delicious food, and extraordinary precision. My five full days there were spent in and around Zürich and Bern, including a day trip to the beautiful Swiss Alps, and a half day exploring gorgeous lakes Neuchâtel and Murten.
First stop: Jungfraujoch. If you haven’t heard of this beautiful glacial “saddle” before, here is a quick introduction:
Situated in the Bernese Alps, Jungfraujoch is a combo of two German words – “jungfrau” meaning a virgin or maiden, and “joch” meaning a pass or saddle. In this case, it connects the two Alpine peaks Jungfrau and Mönch (yes, a monk!) both higher than 4,000 meters (over 13,000 ft). Just shy of 4,000 m is the third peak, Eiger (an ogre). An Alpine legend holds that the Monk is protecting the Virgin from the nearby Ogre. Jungfraujoch, at the elevation of 3,466 m, is also the home of the highest railway station in Europe, hence the marketing slogan “Top of Europe”. It’s Alpine magic at its best, but I will let the photos speak for themselves:
In the summer, if you end up hiking in an Alpine meadow, you will likely discover edelweiss. It grows at altitudes between 1,800 m and 3,000 m, blossoming from July until September. Edelweiss flower extract is a powerful antioxidant. With more potency than Vitamin C and a combination of beneficial compounds such as chlorogenic acid, luteolin, and bisabolene, edelweiss helps skin fight wrinkles, while staying supple and firm. The tiny hairs on edelweiss petals protect the flower from the strong UV rays at high altitudes.
Next stop: food! Here are three, out of a 1,000 tasty things to try when you travel to Switzerland:
#1 – Chocolate
You really can’t go wrong with any of them, even if you just browse the local supermarket aisles of Coop or Migros. However, when a special treat is in order, then venture out to Chocolat Dieter Meier in Zürich. These chocolates are made by the unique cold extraction process, bringing up the full-bodied flavor of cacao while leaving any of the bitterness out. The cacao content in dark chocolates ranges from 75% to 83% and I highly recommend 80% Peru.
After Zürich, we headed to Bern. There we visited Albert Einstein’s and Mileva Marić’s (his first wife) home, the bear park, and the Läderach chocolate store where we discovered the dark chocolate with red peppercorns and strawberries. Our trip to Bern was made complete when we met up with dear friends who showed us the city as well as two lakes off the beaten path.
#2 – Fondue
At a recommendation of our friends, we decided to travel 30 minutes outside of Bern to see two beautiful lakes – Neuchâtel and Murten. We are so glad we did! Both lakes are incredibly blue with gorgeous vistas in the background. At Neuchâtel, we stopped for some tea at the Beau-Rivage Hotel and then continued to Murten, where we got hungry. That’s where we found a truly whimsical place, Chesery. Not only was their fondue deliciously gooey, but the ladies that work there were also super. Even though lunchtime was over, they made fondue for us. They also offered us a table at the most magical location in the restaurant – a dining room in the back called “brocante”; an indoor flea market full of hidden treasures, or “schnick-schnack” as they call them. I am thinking that’s how the word knickknack came about :). In this room, we found a sleeping gnome, three little guardian angels, a very colorful giraffe, vases, mugs, lamps, purses, an old scale, and a myriad of other schnick-schnack treasures.
#3 – Bircher Müesli
This one is a Swiss classic and a delicious way to eat your morning oatmeal. It was first created by Maximilian Oskar Bircher-Benner, a Swiss physician and pioneer nutritionist who advocated consumption of raw foods in 1897. Apparently, he cured himself of jaundice by eating raw apples and then created the müesli to help patients recover from ill effects of tuberculosis. Originally, Bircher müesli was intended as a starter for every meal, like bread and butter. Then, for a long time, it became a Swiss supper at night. And now, it’s a great start to our day! The preparation requires a bit of work, and it’s totally worth it! There are many variations of Bircher müesli, but here is my tried and true recipe:
It starts the night before with a jar of oats (1.5 cups for 3 servings) and a citrus juice poured over them. I use orange/peach/mango juice and fill the jar so it totally covers the oats plus an inch above. Leave the jar in the fridge overnight. The oats soak up all the liquid and get infused with a delicious citrusy flavor.
In the morning, put the oats in a bowl and mix in 1/2 cup of vanilla yogurt and 1/2 cup of raspberry yogurt. I tried different yogurts and decided a combo of these two tasted delish. Add a teaspoon of honey to the yogurt mix.
The star ingredient that makes this müesli so good – a grated, raw apple. I’ve used Fuji, Braeburn, and Pink Lady and they all tasted equally great. So, get gratin’! One medium-sized apple is usually enough. Once grated, add a tablespoon of lemon juice to it. This will keep the apple from browning and give it a nice citrusy flavor as well. Another delicious and healthy add is cinnamon, so sprinkle in a teaspoon of that too!
Add the apples to the oatmeal/yogurt mix and mix them in. Portion out into 3 bowls and top with whatever extra fruits and crunchies you like – I love blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, grapes, mango, pistachios, dried cranberries, coconut flakes, pumpkin seeds, and dried apricots.
Last but definitely not the least – a few words on Swiss precision. 264 words to be exact. If you ask a Swiss person for directions, you will likely be told the distance and the time in minutes and seconds it takes to get from point A to point B. If you are late to a company meeting, the meeting will start on time and without you. It is up to you to catch up, regardless of how high in the company you might be. Have you ever been in a company where meetings regularly started late, overran, and the person who requested the meeting (most often an executive) never showed up because of another, more important meeting that ran over? I view Swiss precision as a sign of utmost respect for other people’s and their own time.
My bus tour to Jungfraujoch lasted exactly 12 hours. We left Zürich at 8 AM and returned back at 8 PM. At one point, the bus driver had to floor it to ensure we would be back precisely at 8 o’clock. During the tour, our cheerful tour guide shared 57 fun facts :). Here are four of them:
- Zug is the smallest and richest canton in Switzerland. Zug is also the name of the canton’s capital. It is known for its cherry trees that were planted there 400 years ago. In 1950, the peak number of cherry trees was 44,482.
- Simmental cows are the most prized cow breed in Switzerland. Each summer they must graze in the Alps a minimum of 100 days.
- The average Swiss citizen consumes 23 pounds of chocolate each year.
- Switzerland’s Sonnenberg Tunnel is the worlds largest nuclear shelter. It can hold up to 20,000 people.
See, precision is fun! I hope this “postcard” inspires you to experience Switzerland, or if you’ve already visited this beautiful country, brings back some great memories. Until next time, auf wiederluge!