W hen people talk about Switzerland, many of them think of Alpine pastures where cows graze. Some people think of a flock of chamois, jumping around steep mountainsides, others think of ski slopes with high-capacity lifts, cable cars and fantastic skiing, some the famous watches of leading Swiss master craftsmen, characterising the accuracy and precision of the slightly more closed local people, and others the famous Swiss chocolate. Most of us, however, link Switzerland to banking, as for many years the local banks were among the most serious and most discrete. The Confederation of Switzerland comprises twenty cantons and six demi-cantons. Each of them has its constitution, parliament and government. The Federal Assembly has legislative power. The federal government is headed by the Federal Council, from which the federal president is elected, always for one year. Although all important matters are handled by referendum, until 1971 women here did not have the right to vote and two cantons maintained this exceptional state until 1989. Four official languages are spoken in Switzerland: primarily German, French and Italian, but also Romansch, which is today used by just under one per cent of the local population. The most common German dialect is Schwyzerdütsch.
Environmental Protection Runs through the Whole Culture The Swiss are first-class environmentalists. In contrast to many other European motorway networks, typically full of lorries, at the Swiss border heavy goods vehicles end their journey by road. The lorries are diverted to a rail terminal, where they drive onto flatbed train wagons and travel to the interior by rail – to a place where the contents of their trailers are moved to light goods vehicles that take the goods to retail outlets or wherever they are needed. The aim is that lorries cannot go further than a few dozen kilometres from railway stations. The Swiss rail network is rich and developed. The precise and order-loving Swiss even think it is an offence to throw waste, cigarette butts and chewing gum on the ground. Famous Railways and Cable Cars Switzerland is also a country with the most picturesque railways and rack railways. There are a lot of private carriers in the country and you can rely on getting everywhere in time. If a train is delayed by more than two minutes, this is regarded as abnormal. In particular on trips to the Swiss Alps you will find that the local cable cars rapidly overcome not only large differences in height, but that in the evening interesting food tastings take place in them. They will prepare an evening meal for a cable car – a table with food and drink – and take you over the beautiful scenery for which Switzerland is famous at a reduced speed, so you can enjoy the beautiful countryside and local specialities at the same time.
Images from Switzerland
The relatively complicated mountain terrain forced the Swiss to build many railway and road tunnels. Many of them are actually very long and tourists will be surprised that for several long minutes they can find themselves directly under the peaks of the great mountains. The country is interwoven with a dense network of road links, including several trans-European routes that go through the famous tunnels. At the start of holidays or weekends many of them are jammed full and the time needed to travel through them gets a lot longer. Despite this, the Swiss are considerate and disciplined drivers, which is helped by strict traffic supervision; motorway racers are punished uncompromisingly and severely by the local police. Quality at Every Step There are approximately 8.3m Swiss (of which two million are foreigners who do not have Swiss citizenship) and they have to fit into a third of the country’s area, because 70% of its surface comprises mountains – the country is therefore one of the most densely populated regions in Europe. The people of Switzerland are concentrated primarily in the middle of the country – in the basin between Jura and the Alps. The six large cities and economic centres are Zurich, Geneva, Basel, Lausanne, Bern and Winterthur. Switzerland has no coast, does not boast much mineral wealth or particularly favourable conditions for agriculture and life in this country is in no way cheap, but most of the local people enjoy a high standard of living. This is because the country bet on tourism, banking and the top quality of pretty much all the services it offers. Medical care is free of charge or at least paid for partially and the social system is relatively generous. Lots of foreign students (mostly rich ones) study at Swiss universities. Radio and television broadcasts in three languages, and the local press is also published in three languages Taking a trip to Switzerland means being satisfied with everything. All services provided are of a guaranteed and high quality, in summer and in winter. If you imagine summer fun as, for example, mountain hiking with a safe shelter in the event of a sudden worsening of the weather, then the Swiss Alpine Club operates over 150 mountain chalets. Sudden changes of weather are frequent in Switzerland, because continental, oceanic and Mediterranean climates meet there. Hikers can enjoy 60,000 kilometers of mountain routes of varying difficulties. Rafters, kayakers, etc. will welcome the chance to satisfy their thirst for shooting the many mountain rivers. And cyclists won’t miss out either, as there are three and a half thousand cycle routes for them. There is probably no need to highlight the massive quantity of ski slopes available in winter, and there are obviously plenty of ski lifts and cable cars. In terms of ski slopes you can choose pistes of various difficulties and lengths, and cross-country skiers can enjoy well-maintained routes with beautiful natural scenery, the same as hikers and cyclists in summer. Everywhere there are plenty of information leaflets, so you always know precisely – in contrast to a lot of other countries – “what you are letting yourself in for”. ●
The Rhaetian Railway
I f you don’t mind travelling by train, then be sure to take a trip on the famous Rhaetian Railway, which celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2014. It will astound you, because you have probably never experienced anything like it in your entire life. The Rhaetian Railway comprises two parts, known as the Albula and Bemina, and they link the north and south of Europe. The Bemina express pulls sightseeing wagons enabling beautiful views of the passing landscape, and travelling past glaciers to palm trees is probably the most beautiful experience that mountain railways can offer. During the trip you go through 55 tunnels, cross 196 bridges and in places the train goes through sections where the gradient is over seven per cent. Over one hundred metres you climb seven metres. You climb to a height above sea-level of 2,253m to the roof of the Rhaetian Railway – Ospizio Bernina. The spiral bridges are incredible and during a trip the incredible height changes will often make your ears pop. In an hour you can go up one kilometre. The Rhaetian Railway also thinks of food-loving tourists. A culinary train will take you from one restaurant to the next – and in each of them you can try a local speciality. You eat your starter at the castle town of Domleschg, your main course in Albulatal and dessert in Engadin – or the other way round. During the trip you will pass through the Rhine gorge, in winter in a special train you will be accompanied by a snow plough that cleans snow drifts off the track. The Rhaetian Railway is global heritage, protected by UNESCO. So that you can enjoy the view of the moving train from outside, in some sections there are cycle paths right next to the track. The railway seems to be linked to the surrounding countryside, it has become part of it. If you are not certain which tourist attraction to try, the Rhaetian Railway will certainly surprise you and become an experience you will remember for many years.●
The Rhaetian Railway including map of the region