We’d planned to stay in Switzerland for 10 days, but only lasted 4.
It wasn’t that we didn’t enjoy Zurich. The city was trendy, full of fancy people and pretty facades with the square Swiss flag protruding outwards. It had a great mix of old and new, with historic and modern buildings seamlessly placed side by side and both with an equal amount of character.
So why did we leave 6 days early, when we loved everything about it?
Arriving in Zurich on a gloomy Sunday afternoon, we had trouble getting into the apartment we’d booked. The key wouldn’t disperse from the automatic key-dispensing device, no matter how many times we entered our passcode.
A frustrating hour and a half of waiting and many international phone call dollars later, we discovered the apartment company had a number of properties in Zurich named almost identically and the one that had come up as the only result in Google Maps was not the one we had booked. Luckily, the one we had actually booked was only a 20 minute walk away.
The apartment was fairly comfortable so the next day we attempted to extend our stay from 2 nights to 4. “No,” the company said, “the apartment is unavailable.”
As renting an apartment in Zurich would be almost the same price as a hostel dorm, we moved into the next cheapest one we could find on short notice. Unfortunately for us, it was more expensive than our previous place as it had a slightly better location. This was the first unexpected hit to our travel budget.
Relieved to have finally located our place of residence for the next few days, we walked to the city to find some dinner… but we had arrived on a Sunday. Why is that a problem, you may ask? Well, in some areas of Germany and Switzerland, shops and restaurants have to close on Sundays, by law.
That’s right, if you need groceries on a Sunday, you’re going hungry until Monday morning.
A few take away joints were open, but as we looked at the McDonalds menu we realised that everything was much more expensive than what it would be in Australia. $15.50 for one small burger meal (of which I would have to remove the meat patty to make it vegetarian?). Umm, no thanks.
The only open restaurant we’d spotted so far was an Italian place opposite McDonalds. We wandered over and sat down, opened the menu, and gulped as we realised a medium sized pizza was going to be almost $30. Our food and beverage budget was $35 per day each, so this pizza would be almost half of it.
We shared the pizza between the two of us and left with both our pockets and stomachs feeling a little empty. We vowed to get groceries as soon as the store was open in the morning and refrain from eating out for the remainder of our time in Switzerland.
The swiss fondue
The only exception to our ban on eating out was going to be a swiss cheese fondue, a must for anyone visiting Switzerland. Trawling the internet to find the best places to get fondue, we discovered a highly rated restaurant in the old town. It was the second least expensive option, but would still be a whopping $35 for 200g of swiss cheese with dipping bread.
Upon arrival, we ordered the fondue to share.
“To share?” asked the waitress politely. “When I have the fondue, I can easily eat one for myself!”
Not wanting to sound like a bunch of tightwads, we pretended we weren’t all that hungry.
“And what about some wine with your fondue? We always have it with wine in Switzerland.”
After glancing at exorbitantly priced wine menu, we sheepishly asked for tap water.
By the way, the cheese fondue was exceptional.
The day trip
After deciding our tight backpackers budget wouldn’t stretch over the 10 days we’d originally planned, we decided to cut the trip short and do a day trip to Lucerne in an effort to see more of Switzerland.
As mentioned in our costs of backpacking Europe, the average price we paid for intercity transport was about $60-$65. This was for train and bus rides that were often between 4-6 hours. The return trip from Zurich to Lucerne (which took only 1 hour each way by train) was $80 each. Another nasty hit to our travel budget, but there was no way around it.
In an effort to save all the money we possibly could on this excursion, we took a packed lunch of bread rolls and a salad from a grocery store in Zurich.
On arrival at the station, we took the advice of a fellow online frugal traveller and tore a coupon from the Lucerne tourist guide for a free sample of Swiss chocolate from a local chocolate shop. That’s right, Switzerland had actually turned us into coupon clippers.
So with our packed lunch and free chocolate sample, we proceeded to do all the activities we could do for free in Lucerne which included walking the tourist route around the old town and the seeing the Lion Monument. At one stage we considered entering one of the museums, but decided against it after discovering what the entry prices would do to our already near empty pockets.
We loved the beautiful buildings with their zig-zag patterned shutters. We loved walking around and finding the decorated painted walls and quaint cobblestone alleyways. We loved talking to the friendly and personable locals about the traditions of their home country. But in the end, Switzerland was just too expensive.
Everything (except maybe groceries) cost more than what we would pay in Australia and our tight backpackers budget wouldn’t have been able to accommodate another 6 days of paying these prices. Staying longer wasn’t justifiable, especially as we were about to head back into Germany where we could stretch our hard-earned dollars so much further.
One day we’ll go back and explore some more of Switzerland, but it may just have to wait until we’re older and richer.