From majestic mountains to melted cheese, Switzerland is a sensory delight for one Tampa couple
Shortly after Edelweiss Air relaunched its nonstop service from Tampa to Zurich, TPA's Danny Cooper and his girlfriend packed their bags for a dream vacation.
Editor's note: Tampa International Airport Sr. Manager of Marketing Danny Cooper and his girlfriend, Dori, recently took advantage of TPA's nonstop connection to Zurich via Edelweiss Air, which resumed service in March 2022. Here is a travelogue of his experience, from takeoff to landing.
Off we go
Prior to my trip to Switzerland, the most I knew about the country or the Alps were those Swiss Miss pudding bars from the ‘80s and the yodeling guy on the Price is Right.
Now, after one short visit, I want to move there. It’s a beautiful country with bustling metros, quiet countryside scenes, majestic mountains and alpine lakes, and warm, friendly people.
I’ll begin with Edelweiss Air. First, you couldn’t ask for a nicer and more pleasant flight crew and onboard experience in the A340. That’s a good thing, because the flight is almost nine hours there and almost 12 hours back.
If you can swing the upgrade to the Economy Max seats, it’s definitely worth it, but all of the seating is far roomier than your usual U.S. domestic flight. (Pro Tip 1: Try to be tired on the flight out so you can sleep on the overnight leg. It’s tough because you fly into the sunrise and it comes up around halfway into the flight, or 3 a.m., Tampa time. You want to be able to sleep through that so you can hit the ground running!)
Our trip was in mid-March, or “Shoulder Season,” as it’s known in Switzerland. We were fortunate and had near perfect weather with just one morning of drizzly rain, and four of the seven days were sunny with highs in the upper 50s and lows in the upper 30s (Fahrenheit of course – when you’re there, it will be in Celsius). I wouldn’t hesitate at all to travel in this timeframe since it’s far less busy than other times in the year.
A tale of two cities
We landed in Zurich on Saturday morning and walked into the only airport I’ve been to in a while that rivals TPA on cleanliness and ease. This is a theme we discovered throughout Switzerland. Clearing customs took about an hour for non-EU passport holders, so you may want to get coffee before boarding the train to the customs area. Proof of COVID vaccination was required for the flight and for entry into Switzerland (a recent negative test could be substituted), otherwise there were very few restrictions other than wearing a mask on transit.
An easy walk to the in-airport train station had us on our way to the first destination: Lausanne. The national train system in Switzerland is a marvel and runs with remarkable precision and comfort. Not one train during our trip was late or early, just right on time … every. Single. Time. (Pro Tip 2: When boarding longer trains, make sure you aren’t separated too far from the restaurant car so you can grab an easy snack or beer.)
Lausanne is a breathtaking city right on Lake Geneva (known as Lac Leman locally) with a view of the French Alps across the lake. The town itself is busy, but not overwhelmingly. It’s actually a tale of two cities of sorts. On the shores of the lake, which is where our hotel was, life moves actively but leisurely as expected in a vacation area. However, a quick ride on the metro funicular takes you into the business district and Old Town where it all moves a little faster and you can find more clubs and bars than ever needed – if you’re into such things.
Our trip to Old Town was mostly for one reason: fondue! We went to the oldest fondue spot in the city, Pinte Besson, for our foray into the cheesy goodness. There are many varieties, but we went largely traditional with the bread, potatoes, and other small accoutrements to go along. You'll likely be full for awhile. (Pro Tip 2: Nothing says “tourist” more than eating fondue outside of the fall/winter timeframe since the locals consider it a cold-weather treat. Get it anyway.)
Day-tripping near France
From Lausanne we day-tripped to Vevey and Montreaux, as well as Geneva and Evian, France across the lake. Near Vevey is the Vinorama, which as the name implies is a world of wines. The region is Switzerland’s largest wine producing area and you can sample and dine on as much as you want here.
We headed back to Zurich midweek for the remainder of our trip. One of the best ideas from Dori was to do a walking tour with a guide from the local tourism agency. The tour was free, but tips were expected at the end. (Pro Tip 3: Outside of this, tipping was not expected anywhere else. Service workers are paid on a non-tip basis, so at the most it’s considered pleasant to round up to the next whole dollar/franc.) The walking tour was a great way to get our bearings, learn the history, and identify areas we wanted to spend more time. We also day-tripped to Chur from Zurich. Chur is one of the oldest permanent settlements in Switzerland and was fun to explore for the day.
Food in Zurich and other large cities runs the spectrum of all ethnicities and price points. You can find late-night doners, light baked goods, fine dining and everything in between. The coffee culture in Switzerland is a big deal and they drink coffee all day and into the night. Order it Swiss-style which is a long espresso with a delicious sweetened creamer – somewhere between a latte and a flat white. We were there on St. Patrick’s Day, so we made our way to and English Pub near the hotel for some burgers and fries or “chips.” (Pro Tip 4: You’ll get a red and yellow bottle with fries and – fair warning – the yellow is mayonnaise, not mustard! Like Jules says in Pulp Fiction, they drown ‘em in it. It’s worth a try as the mayo there is a little different than here in the U.S.)
Despite being in the EU, Switzerland does not use the Euro and the local currency is still the Swiss franc (CHF). The country can be a little on the pricier side as the franc is strong to the dollar and the economy there is generally a little more expensive. However, there are work arounds particularly for things like breakfast and lunch. Across the country there is a network of stores called CoOp and Migros. You can buy high quality food items there including breads, meats, cheeses, beers and wines and simply dine al fresco at any number of places in the cities – just like the locals do. Another tip: Don’t buy bottled water. All of the cities have ample free water sources and the water is essentially what you’d buy in the bottle anyway.
As we prepared to return home, a negative COVID test was required for the flight as well as re-entry to the U.S. Several of our friends gave us a hot tip prior the trip about an online option for the test so we didn’t have to find a clinic and worry about how much it would cost and turnaround time. The tests we got were by Abbott and Dori picked them up on Amazon prior to the trip and brought them along. It’s a basic at-home kit many of us are familiar with now with the exception of the process needing to be monitored and proctored by an online assistant. We simply followed the directions on the package and from the proctor and 15 minutes later we were both clear to come home. The test comes with an app to download so you can show proof at the airport.
The trip home is a little different than the trip there. It’s not only longer thanks to the headwind going west, but it’s in the daylight for all 11 hours. It’s difficult to sleep, but that’s not a bad thing because you’ll be nice and tired when you get home to your own bed and that will help fight off the jetlag. However, again, the onboard Edelweiss experience from the service to the food is exceptional. Whether it’s back to Switzerland or to connect somewhere else, we can’t wait to fly with them again.
Ready to book a flight on Edelweiss Air? Click here. (Note: Edelweiss flights from the U.S. are booked via SWISS.)