European travel is not an experience we’ve all had, but it is an item on many bucket lists. The prospect may be daunting for some, exhilarating for most, but hopefully when achieved, it would be truly rewarding for all. This January, we set our sites on and stamped our passports to the heart of it all the center of Europe, Switzerland.
A nation geographically the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined, a topography similar to Southwestern Colorado, and a population of 8.6 million people, the nation, its people, the culture, all offerings that shattered our expectations. We visited five (5) cities, Lausanne, Bern, Zurich, Arosa, and Bad Ragaz.
We’ve mentioned our Arosa stay in our post Arosa Gay Ski Week Lived Up To Its Lofty Location. The beauty of the Swiss Alps, trekking through the wintery mountains in such a wonderland was an experience to be cherished. The times we had in the other four cities are too much to mention in one additional post so we will take this opportunity to share about the first two cities, Lausanne and Bern. At the end of this post, I’ll also mention how easy it was to get to and around Switzerland with one airline, one train ticket, and some helpful apps.
It is hard to rate which city I visited in Switzerland is my favorite as they were all magnificent for their own reasons. Our first overnight was scheduled for Lausanne, the Justice Capital of Switzerland, but whatever I say about this city, I will not, well, do it justice. I feel the same way about the four other cities we visited on our journey, but Lausanne may rank at the top as it was the first city in Switzerland I truly experienced, and we never forget our first. That’s my safe and politically correct answer.
Lausanne was a great introduction to a new-to-me nation. We hopped onto the metro M2 to go one stop from the train station (Lausanne is the only city in Switzerland to have a true metro), and then up to the surface via elevator. As the doors opened, we were greeted with historical and breathtaking views. Across Switzerland, us campy gays would constantly break out into “Little town, little peaceful village” in front of every panoramic view we adored. Belle, we feels you.
If you are a fan of French fashion, attentive staff, elevated accommodations, you’ll have to follow in our footsteps and stay at the Lausanne Palace.
The visually impressive hotel (check out the property’s galleries here) continues its charm from outside to within as you swing through the hotel’s vintage front doors into the marbled foyer with chandeliered ceilings and the 1915 Bar, where you may find some of your travel companions already enjoying a quick amuse bouche, tea, or martini. A favorite of European elite, Olympic dignitaries, and fashion icon Coco Chanel, this five-star lodging is situated in the heart of Lausanne and offers breath-taking views of the city and beyond. Its 140 rooms and suites, 5 restaurants, 2 bars, Spa and Hair Salon have been continuously updated since its beginnings in 1915 while keeping the opulence and luxury. And if you’re a fan of Coco Chanel specifically, check out videos of the aptly named suite, its views, and the opportunity to stay.
Coté Jardin Restaurant was where fortunate Palace guests like us enjoyed breakfast daily as we ate our eggs cooked to order and reminded ourselves that we were in the heart of Europe at this amazing five-star location. Fresh fruits, salads, cereal, pastries, and wonderful baked goods and more gave us the energy to get out and enjoy the city.
But the Palace was hard to leave as our rooms overlooked Lake Geneva and the French Alps to the south. Downstairs, Ayurveda Spa with its saunas, pools, and hammams was very inviting. Along with the spa and hair salon, it also offers a fitness center for those inclined.
We desired to work our calories off exploring. During the day we had ample to see. Always give museums a chance in a new city. We found Plateforme 10, the new art district of Lausanne very inviting as we enjoyed mudac (Museum of Contemporary Design and Applied Arts) and or Photo Elysée.
Just a quick metro ride and a brisk walk along Lake Geneva, we were at The Olympic Museum, unique immersive experience in the Olympic spirit of the Games. The artistry, uniforms, history of the Olympics was inspiring as no one nation was in the spotlight. Be prepared for some interactive opportunities, we enjoyed the biathlon one. We enjoyed seeing what fellow guests found interesting and which sports or memorabilia garnished the most attention.
People watching is a must, morning, noon, or night. Some of our spots were Café de Grancy for lunch and le Pointu for hot chocolate and hot chai. We also found a great city tour that educated us of the settling of the city, the old and the new parts, and more about the Olympics and their move to Lausanne.
Evenings were no slouch, even on the Sunday and Monday nights we were to be in Lausanne. We said, “heck no!” to having a relaxed night on the first night in Switzerland and started off the Sunday night with drinks at La Couronne d’Or. The golden crown was the perfect spot to chat with new acquaintances and maybe even invite them to our next stop, Brasserie du Chateau, a simple brew pub where we tried our broken French with some welcomed English along with individual pizzas and more beverages.
We then escalated things to seek out The Moxy. The hip hotel’s Lausanne location plays host to OMG! OhMyGay Party every Sunday night. It’s like a tea dance setting with festive drinks flowing and some dancing here and there. Drag queens, cute men, happy music, lots of flirting with the locals, we were all set! The crowd did start to thin out but we knew where they were going and walked a short couple blocks to MAD Club where Sunday night was not going to die but to live on with Gameboy – The MAD Gay Party. Organizer Adraino treated us well as we watch the night continue on dangerously close to morning. More drag, dancing, and European men made me really enjoy Sunday nights in Lausanne.
Having partied Sunday night, the next night, was to be a quieter Monday night with pampering of the palate. There were several options for evening dining without leaving the hotel grounds; the hotel-adjacent LP Bar is always active but more so in the summer, the hotel’s signature restaurant, La Table d’Edgard, a Michelin star recipient, serves guests Mediterranean-inspired food, the Parisian atmosphere of Brasserie Grand Chene offers diners the finest French specialties. But we did decide to walk a few blocks to Brasserie de Montbenon and into its soothing perfectly illuminated environment. Yes, sometimes English is not one of the languages spoken by staff, but we managed beautifully through our love of French food, knowing some key food words, and made the evening into a special dining experience.
The overall feel of Lausanne was a young vibrant town. Many have described it to us as the college town of Switzerland where things are more youthful, artistic, progressive. But on that note, everyone seemed youthful and artistic in Switzerland as a whole, but yes, it was very present in Lausanne. The city streets even seemed to have a youthful, yet historic vibe. I would recommend visiting, singing like Belle whenever it tickled you to do so, and enjoy.
Bern is the political capital of Switzerland. Overlooking the Aare River, Bern’s center is full of historic limestone buildings, fountains in the middle of cobblestone streets, massive clock towers and churches. Our Belle renditions didn’t come out as much here as Bern felt to be larger, more historic, and more business orientated, which was a great variance to notice, feel, and appreciate. In the middle to Eastern part of Switzerland, Swiss German is the prominent tongue uses and usually spoken first and that alteration made the environment feel different, too.
We did not plan an overnight in Bern, but dabbled in the cultural ere. As one sight-sees around the city, they’ll notice that many of Bern’s streets are restricted to pedestrians and public transportation, making it a very walkable city. The fountains and roads have hardly changed since the early 15th century.
The center of the city is marked by the Zytglogge. From 1191 to 1250, it marked the west gate of the town, was a prison for prostitutes in the 1300s, and was rebuilt after a devastating fire in 1405. Caspar Brunner fashioned the mechanized clock in 1527 with bears and a crowing cock that make their presence known on the clock’s east face at four minutes before the hour.
Walking around the city, we were treated with viewing grand spaces, shoppes, and buildings like the Swiss Parliament House building, Bundeshhaus. Not many cities have managed to retain their historic features quite as successfully as this city has. The Old Town of Bern is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and thanks to its 6 kilometers of arcades (the locals refer to them as ‘Lauben’), it boasts on of the longest weather-sheltered shopping promenades in Europe.
Our taste buds were treated to lunch at the oldest continuously operated restaurant in the city, Falken. Someone needs to get me that Lebanese lentil soup with turmeric. And the beef stew was not what we have here in the United States.
Taking in some Queerness is always a good thing so after lunch we put our feet to use to experience the walkability of Bern, made it to the Natural Historic Museum of Bern where we were treated to a guided tour of one of the temporary exhibitions “Queer”.
The exhibition sends visitors on a journey of discovery into the “queer realm”, a world that shows the colorful abundance in nature and society that can be found in the topic of gender and sexuality. An expedition in which the visitors also explore their own identity. Until 19 March 2023.
Bern Historical Museum is one of the most significant nature museums in Switzerland. Representing animals in their natural habitat has been one of its specialties. To have “Queer”, such a moving, educational, and important exhibit here and to have it embraced by the city, the nation, bravo.
Bern was just an afternoon stop on the train but the walkability, the visual and palpable history, its beautiful structures and presence along the Aare River has us hoping to return soon for a longer stay. And when we return, we will look into the Bern Ticket (free public transport for overnight guests, including funicular up to the Gurten, Bern’s local mountain), Bern’s Minster, which we briefly went into but it was under renovations, and the free outdoor swimming pools in the summer.
When will that be? Well, interesting you should ask. It’s never too early to plan your next journey and this summer, there are two amazing events that will be pulling us back to Bern.
Having been held regularly since 1992, the EuroGames are in a different European city each time. This year, from Wednesday, July 26 to Saturday, July 29, 2023, the EuroGames will be in Bern. The tournaments focus on diversity and inclusion and are open to all people regardless of their skill level. Heterosexual participants are especially welcome. The city is expecting approximately 3,500 athletes from all over Europe and about 20,000 visitors each day to The Village in the Old Town section of Bern. Most will travel from Switzerland, Germany, France, and the UK, but there’s nothing stopping a USA Team joining. Keep up to date on the EuroGames here.
Bern Pride will take place on July 29, 2023 from 1 PM to 11 PM. This will be the third time the LGBTQ event has been held in the federal capital (Pride 2000, Pride Ouest 2017). The main attraction of the event is the Pride Parade, which even in European cities harks back to the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York and celebrates the political achievements of the LGBTQ movement. Learn more about Bern Pride here.
At the end of the parade through Bern’s city center, a festival with various artists will take place on a large stage on the Bundesplatz, Bern’s federal square. Bern Pride is a political event intended to increase the visibility of the queer community and to address its needs.
We had a great experience across Switzerland. The great communication with and recommendations from Switzerland Tourism set us up to enjoy every city, every stop, every step, every train ride. We will definitely return.
In talking about returning to Bern for Pride and the EuroGames, we found out about Pink Alpine.
Whether adventure, culture or comfort, Pink Alpine offers trips for gay men and their friends! Founded in 2012, Pink Alpine has grown to become the leading organizer of gay group travel in the German-speaking world. Pink Alpine is gay owned and gay friendly managed. Our group tours are accompanied by professional guides who know the area very well. So you can explore new travel destinations with like-minded people carefree and safely and enjoy the camaraderie.
Getting There Was Not Half the Battle
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, I wanted to share how easy it was to get to and around Switzerland with one airline, one train ticket, and some helpful apps.
Our choice to fly overseas to Switzerland was Swiss Air. Departure from Miami was smooth and inviting, the in-air experience was worry free, comfortable, and elevated above domestic experiences here in the United States.
SWISS connects Switzerland from Zurich and Geneva to the world. And, of course, the world with Switzerland. Aboard, you get to enjoy a sophisticated service marked by Swissness – the best way to get to know Switzerland before you even touch down. SWISS embodies its home country’s values and is deeply committed to delivering the highest product and service quality.
The new travel class SWISS Premium Economy is first choice for passengers who appreciate individuality and wish to arrive at their destination feeling even more relaxed.
I did not upgrade my seating option as all I do is sleep on a plane. Using the Swiss Air App, I chose my last row window seat, providing a massive recline and about 9 inches of space between my seat and the wall for this big boy to lean. Thanks Swiss Air for the hydration, food, and attentiveness. I loved hearing the staff switch so easily in languages used, hearing one of them using her knowledge of 4. French, German, English, and Italian are the most spoken in Switzerland, but I did not hear her use Italian, but Spanish instead.
If not by plane, then by train. That was our travel experiences in Switzerland as we used our all-in-one 1st class Swiss Travel Pass. We found the #swisstravelpass to be perfect as it provided:
- Unlimited travel by train, bus, and boat
- Unlimited use of local public transportation in more than 90 towns and cities
- Including mountain excursions: Rigi, Stanserhorn, and Stoos
- Free admission to more than 500 museums throughout Switzerland
- Two free informative apps for your journey: Grand Train Tour of Switzerland app and Swiss Travel Guide app
- Many other benefits and services: mystsnet.com/areaofvalidity
Knowing that you can use a simple app that tells you when and where your train will be, having a QR code to show as your ticket if they ask for it, being able to not worry if a train, bus, or boat is free or not, and knowing that the transportation in a nation that makes precision time pieces also runs like clockwork, the Swiss Travel Pass is the way to go. A couple bits of advice, take a screen shot of your QR code, save it to your favorite images for easy access. We only needed to show it three times in the whole 8 days we were there and only once accompanied by our passports, but having that picture is easier than digging for a paper copy or finding an email.
Also, look into if your smart phone’s SIM card is international or what you need to do to use your phone internationally as the apps do like to be connect to the internet, making the travel much easier when you have those bars. And one more site/app to use, ALL public transport connections in Switzerland can be found on www.sbb.ch/en. The use of this app made travel so easy. Zero worries or questions as to which platform, what time, what number. And in a nation where English is maybe the second, third, or fourth used, and rarely not at all ( it did happen once or twice) we liked having that data connection reassurance. I can understand French pretty good and when we were in the western part of Switzerland, that was the first language spoken on and around the trains, then followed by German, but when we traveled into central and eastern Switzerland, the language usage flip-flopped. There were still plenty of signs and we did fine everywhere as it was easy to follow apps and enjoy the magnificent views out the train windows, having me at ease the whole time.