Last but absolutely not least, here the trip’s sum-up from Australian Mel:
There are many ways to see a country but Rotaract Round Trips are second to none. Travelling on a Rotaract Round Trip means being shown around by the locals and sharing experiences with people with whom you already have a common bond through membership of Rotaract. Therefore, I was very grateful and excited to be chosen to participate in the 2015 Swiss Rotaract Round Trip along with Muge from Turkey, Trim from Kosovo, Thomas from Canada and Antonis from Cyprus. Vivianne of the Limattel club, Johannes of the Zurich club and the entire committee did a wonderful job of organising a week jam-packed with unique Swiss experiences and sightseeing opportunities.
The week began in Switzerland’s most populated city, Zurich. After travelling from Melbourne, Australia, for more than 24 hours, I was welcomed to Switzerland by Louise, who gave me coffee and a croissant to help me out of my zombie state. That night we met the rest of the group and Daniela welcomed us into her home for dinner. We ate alpen macaroni, which is pasta with cheese, potato and apple sauce. Afterwards, we went to the Männerbad on the the Sihl River; by day it is a men’s only public bath but by night it is a popular open-air bar for young people, with fairy lights, Moroccan-style cushion seating and a great atmosphere.
The next morning at brekky I learned that bircher muesli is a Swiss invention. Uncle Toby’s long lost brother Maximilian Bircher-Benner invented muesli in the late 19th century. He encouraged people to eat fruit, vegetables and nuts and exercise more, so I think Max would have been very impressed that that same day we climbed the tower at Uetliberg, went on a bushwalk and swam in the Limattel. For dinner we trained to Louise and Mattius’ house in Uster and indulged in the modern version of raclette, which uses a grill. The melted cheese was served with potato, gherkins and baby corn and some interesting sauces including one made of banana, sour cream and curry powder.
On Monday we caught the train to Lucerne and were taken on a city tour by Phillipe and the local Rotaracters. Lucerne has a rich history and is home to the Kapellbrücke, which caught fire in 1993 from a tourist’s discarded cigarette butt and had to be rebuilt. Fortunately for us, Lucerne still lets tourists into the city and has not reinstated the use of its city walls and fortifications since the incident. After our city tour we took a paddlesteamer across Lake Lucerne and then a furnicular to the summit of Rigi to enjoy the view. In the evening we swam at the Seebad and enjoyed multicultural food and music at the Blue Balls festival. There was literally no room at the inn, so we slept in a barn at Mierscappel. While we were taken aback at first, Vivianne assured us it was a Swiss tradition and it ended up being one of the best night’s sleep I’ve had.
The next day we journeyed by train to Zermatt. After fuelling up on Italian food, we hiked through the forest, across meadows, over rivers, through Helm’s Deep and past glaciers to flualp. The spectacular Matterhorn (aka Toblerone Mountain) served as not only a beautiful backdrop but also a powerful reminder that there are much more difficult hikes we could have been doing!
On Wednesday we were up at sunrise to walk down to the lake and see the Matterhorn glowing pink in the morning light. Vivianne and Thomas braved the cold water and had an early morning dip. A gondola, furnicular and a couple of trains later and we were in Lausanne in a French-speaking area of Switzerland. M’faddel and Rick were our warm and friendly hosts. For me a highlight of the trip was Chateaux Chillon as it is like nothing I have seen before. I felt like I had either stepped back in time or into a Disney movie. In the evening we met more Rotaracters and enjoyed dinner at Cafe Bellini followed by salsa dancing. Valerie was kind enough to host me that evening, which was very generous as we arrived home quite late.
On Thursday we took a train to Neuchâtel and enjoyed a kaffee from the restaurant carriage. The local Rotaracters gave us questions to answer as we toured the city, which brought out our competitive spirit. I met probably the only other person in Switzerland to know where Coonabarabran is, Celine, who had done an exchange to Australia. After lunch from the kiosk we cruised around the lake and watched kids cheat death as they jumped off jetties and into the wake of the boat as we passed by. To escape the heat we took pedalos (pedalboats) out onto the lake. There is now dead kangaroo at the bottom of Lac du Neuchâtel as I shared around some kangaroo jerky and it did not taste nice at all, so someone from Cyprus spat it out. I guess I should have tried kangaroo jerky before I gave it to people, but I like kangaroo and I like jerky so I figured it would be ok. Sorry! That night we stayed at Auberg’inn, which is not a play on the word “aubergine”. Many years ago David de Pury also happened to stay there and drink beer and prosecco before he went out and danced to a Gotye remix.
The next day we travelled to Bern by train and discovered that boiled eggs can be bought off the shelf. In Bern we caught a bus to the Rosengarten then walked down past the bear pits for which Bern is famous, across the Nydeggbrücke to the old part of Bern, past Einstein’s flat, past the Parliament and down to the Aare River, which is not full of jellyfish despite the signs dotted across the city. We walked about a kilometre up the river then jumped into the fast-flowing water off a four-metre high bridge. I got a blood nose from the shock of the cold water but I was glad to face my fears and live to tell the tale.
In the afternoon we arrived at Grenchen airport and met Rotaracters from Solothurn. To our great surprise a generous Rotarian and pilot, Rolph, took us for joy flights over Solothurn, Biel/Bienne and Grenchen. We flew 500 feet above the mountain ridge and could see where people do traditional Swiss wrestling, the factory where BMC bikes are made for Cadell Evans and the Swatch factory whose workers are always on time. It was an amazing and unforgettable experience. Afterwards we said our goodbyes to Johannes as he left for France. That night we had fondue for dinner at Eveline and Tom’s house. No amount of kirsch could have helped the cheese ball in my tummy but it was a lovely dinner all the same.
After Solothurn we headed to Basel for the last day of our journey through Switzerland. Lu was a wonderful host in Basel and very kind and understanding. Adrian and the Basel Rotaracters took us on a city tour and we crossed the river on the leu fähre, which is completely unmotorised and pulled along by a rope across the river. We then had a relaxing afternoon traipsing around the zolli and seeing animals from around the world. The leu cubs were the highlight for me even though we only caught a glimpse. For dinner we had a barbecue by the river in an absolutely magical setting, interrupted only by the people who happened to want to use the path we were sitting on. The Rotaract club was kind enough to organise a Patrouille Suisse fly-by as a finale to our picnic. The evening concluded with drinks and more socialising at Paddy Reilly’s. We farewelled Trim as he was to go to Geneva the next day.
On Sunday the rest of us returned to Zurich to say our goodbyes and go our separate ways. The end of a round trip is bitter-sweet as you have made new friends but you don’t know when/whether you’ll see them again. To everyone whom I met on the 2015 Swiss Rotaract Round Trip, my door in Australia is always open and I sincerely hope you visit one day so I can show you around my corner of the world. Thanks to all the participants and organisers for a special once-in-a-lifetime experience.