Travel Diaries: Switzerland

This version of “Travel Diaries” is slightly different as I was in Switzerland for work- pretty cool, eh? I was there for a full month, but I’ll narrow it down to the weekends and days when all the fun stuff happened.

Weekend 1

I landed on a Saturday- jet-lagged as can be- and took the afternoon to roam around the center city of Zurich, where I’d be for the majority of my stay.

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On Sunday, a small group of my co-workers and I took a train to a nearby city called Bassel. Sunday for the Swiss is a day to relax, so while there wasn’t a whole lot going on, we were able to explore the city freely without much fuss.

Weekend 2

The second weekend was the most chaotic one. A bunch of us left Friday afternoon to Milano, Italy. The craziness started right from the beginning. We ran throughout all of Zurich trying to find the bus, which we were minutes away from missing. Upon our arrival to Milan, we learned that we needed train-tickets to get to the center city. Lucky for us, no credit cards were being accepted AND no ATMs were nearby. Thankfully, one of my colleagues had enough money for all of us- ALWAYS TAKE OUT MONEY BEFORE YOU TRAVEL!

On Saturday, I woke up at the crack of dawn, eager to meet Milan. I roamed around, had some spaghetti (with wine) for lunch, and explored Il Duomo. It took me two hours to tour the cathedral, which was majestic and enthralling from top to bottom.

TIPS for touring Il Duomo: If you like to analyze things and to thoroughly read the descriptions of each work, go by yourself as I did. I suggest you do pay for the audio-tour in order to get the most out of the experience. Also, be ready to wait some time in line to buy the tickets and get in. FYI, women are not allowed to have their shoulders exposed or wear shorts, and men have to wear long pants to get in- keep that in mind the day of your visit.

I had bought online a last minute city tour of Milan for after I visited Il Duomo. I waited a whole hour at the stop the group was supposed to meet only to find out that the tour had been moved for an earlier time and I wasn’t notified. I went to the Milan tourist center and reported it. The Milan tourism organization takes these things seriously, and they worked on my behalf to get my money back.

TRAVEL TIPS : ALWAYS make sure it’s a legit website. Read the reviews before booking anything. The safest thing is to book something through the city’s tourism office or site. In the worst case scenario, REPORT everything!

After all the ruckus, I recharged batteries at the loft and then went to Navigli for some Apero and drinks. In other words, you pay for drinks and get free food- of course I had to go, especially after the past insane hours.

I was ready to go home and rest in order to properly scout Milan the next day, but little did I know the night had yet to give me a surprise. As I exited the train station and made my way towards the loft, I took notice that the Duomo plaza was packed with people. When I say packed, I mean people were climbing on top of statues in order to see. It just so happened that there was a choir singing some of the most famous Italian classical songs. Best part yet: they were giving out a book with the sheet music so the public could follow.

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Before you could tune up to Do Mi Sol Do, I was up in a lamp post with my sheet music, singing with the crowd. WHAT A SURREAL EXPERIENCE. There were so many magical things happening all at once. First, it baffled me that SO MANY people came to the show. Yes, it was free and for the public, but how many times do we know of free shows and a) end up going b) there is actually an impressive turnout? I would bet not many. It demonstrated the love and respect the culture has towards the arts.

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Second, I would say most of the people around me were legit singers/musicians. They were going all out with dynamics and sight-reading- it kind of made me feel I needed to step up my game! For a moment, I dimmed my voice to listen to what was before the University choir but was now the choir of Milan. The sound was filled with such synergy and passion that you could almost feel it within you as well. Of course, the original choristers and accompanying musicians were impeccable, but nothing compared to the ensemble of hundreds of unique voices joining in a same melody!

On Sunday, I woke up early to properly explore Milan. I went to the Sforza Castle where I strolled within the brick walls and even saw  Michelangelo’s “Rondanini Pieta”  as it is exhibited there. Then, I went to the Brera Museum, plugged in Classical music into my ears, and let my imaginative side flow freely as I gazed at all the artwork.

After, my Airbnb host was kind enough to join me for lunch. As we ate some Venetian sandwiches, we talked about Italy’s culture, political, and economic shift from 50 years ago to the present. We later went to La Scala theater, and he showed me along some of his personal favorite Milan trails.

Sidenote: this was my first time using Airbnb, and I was a little bit skeptic of sharing an apartment with a stranger. Though, I found it to be an amazing experience!! Where else will you find your own personal tour guide to show you all the ins and outs of the country? Not only that, but you actually get to live like a local with a local, meaning that you get to immerse yourself in the day-to-day culture of the country! You won’t find that in a hotel- that’s for sure. And at the end, you’ll (hopefully) come out with a new friend, which was my favorite part of it all. (P.S shout-out to Luca for being an awesome host!!)

Once I said my goodbyes, I packed my bag and left to the bus station with the other group. As I was getting into the bus, I was stopped because my ticket wasn’t being acknowledged by the scanner. Long story short: I mistakenly took a departure different than the one I meant and, because I was so confident that I had booked the one I wanted, I didn’t bother to check earlier that day to make sure.

ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS check your arrival and departure tickets. Everyone in the group left, and I had to wait 3 hours by myself in one of the SKETCHIEST bus stop I’ve ever been with 20% battery on both phones and-wait for it- no power outlets WHATSOEVER! Lets just say, I was pretty happy to see the bus come 3 hours later, and I was very happy when I arrived to Zurich… even if it was already 1am Monday.

Community Day

I arrived to Zurich from Milan that Monday at 1am, was in bed by 2am, and had to be ready to go by 6am for a Community Day. My company sponsors a volunteer day once a year, giving employees an opportunity to impact the community directly. Mine this year was in Mt. Rigi located in the North-Eastern Swiss Alps. I thought we were going to do ordinary things like plant flowers or feed the cattle. Little did I know we were going to do serious heavy work like cut massively large trees and get rid of stones all under the hot sun for a good 8 hours. I was hot, sleep-deprived, and beyond exhausted by the end of the day but working to this view made it worthwhile.

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Weekend 3

For my third weekend, a few of my friends and I took a day trip to Bern. It was a rainy day but perfect for seeing Switzerland’s capital. We started our trip by seeing the bears as the city is known to be famous for them, and then we spent the rest of the day walking along its paths. We also visited chocolate stores and brought a ton back with us- they didn’t last long.

I guess I’ll make a parenthesis here and talk to you about some of the foods Switzerland is known for. Before visiting the country, I knew Swiss chocolate and cheese were well-known globally, but I’m not a huge chocolate or cheese fan, so I wasn’t too intrigued in trying all of them out. With that being said, all I did during my trip was eat chocolate and cheese (and drink wine but that doesn’t count). You can really taste the quality in the technique used to produce these. My advice is that you bring a big enough suitcase to bring a lot of cheese and chocolate back with you.

Weekend 4

For my last weekend, I went to do some hiking in none other than the Swiss Alps- Mt.Pilatus to be exact. I’ll be frank: when they told me it was going to be a 6 to 7 hour hike in total, I figured I’d be better off taking the train to the top. But after some convincing from my friends, I decided to go for it. Hey, I go to the gym and I’m fit.  Plus, I hike El Yunque every time I’m back in Puerto Rico. I should be fine. 

Yeah… I swear 15 minutes into it, and I was wondering how bad it would be if I decided to head back or how much it would cost my insurance to bring a helicopter to pick me up. And before you say anything- I WAS CLIMBING THE SWISS ALPS A.K.A 2000+ METERS FOR GOD’S SAKE-cut me some slack. It was intense to say the least; nothing like anywhere I’ve “hiked” before, and being with an all-European group didn’t help my case. I guess they are all so used to hiking ridiculously steep mountains that they were cruising as if they were walking through a mall. Meanwhile, I was (way) behind, trying to get every ounce of strength left to make it to the top (in one piece).

Alright, it wasn’t as horrible as it sounds. Anytime I would need a break, I would just breathe in the freshest air I’ve ever breathed while gazing at the most jaw-dropping view. Switzerland was actually my country number 14. I thought I would not see much different than what I’d already seen around Europe. And in a way, that was true. However, Switzerland takes the prize for the most unbelievable landscape.

It was a heck of a day: my body was at 1% by the end of it, and I’m sure I’ve never had to give myself as much motivation to keep going as I did that day. But I’m glad I did the hike. It turned out that the actual marvelous views were on the way to the top. If I hadn’t done it, I really would have missed it all. I guess it’s true what they say: it’s the journey not the destination.

After it all, we headed to the heart of Lucerne for dinner. Although I was only there for a few hours, this was my favorite city out of those I visited. It’s small but SO CUTE! The city was filled with colors, music, and a jolly spirit. It also had a vintage vibe to it that I loved.

And with that concludes my adventured-filled month in Switzerland. In conclusion, I have to say that I was impressed with the country’s scenery. On the other hand, Switzerland’s transportation system is the BEST out of all the countries I’ve been to. You can get anywhere inside and outside the country pretty easily with minimal chances of getting lost (and I get lost everywhere, so it REALLY is good). There was delicious food in the cities I visited, and the people I met were pleasant.

I’ll be back a few other times and hope to visit more locations, so there’s definitely more chocolate, cheese and spectacular sights after all!

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