Sadly all good things must come to an end, and it is that time. Today was my last full day, tomorrow I’m leaving Bern around 9am to catch by 1pm flight back home.
Talk about an amazing trip! Besides the fact that I feel like I need a vacation from this vacation it really was an incredible time.
My first few days in Amsterdam were a great chance to see my cousin and her family and get myself adjusted to the timezone. I love spending time in The Hague – it’s such a beautiful city and the bike culture is incredible! Being able to bike just about anywhere is so convenient and just a pleasant experience all around. I got to visit a few places I hadn’t been before and revisit a few places that I love.
Getting into Switzerland for the main purpose of the trip was exciting – I’d never been to Geneva before and didn’t know what to expect. The city itself, if I’m being honest, isn’t much to see but the waterfront is nice and as you get towards the UN it classes up considerably. Day one was very exciting for me because I had the opportunity to give a presentation about the perception of refugees and how we can help change the narrative, and hear from a few other IKEA countries about things they’ve been doing. We also had a great group discussion and presentation from the UNHCR.
I have lots to go home with, and some great ideas on how we can move forward to best support the cause and truly show that IKEA stands #WithRefugees.
That evening we attended the UNHCR Nansen Awards which was a true honour. The winner, Zannah Mustapha is an incredible human being and true hero. Facilitating the rescue of over 100 young girls captured by Boko Harem and opening a school attended by children on both sides of the political divide is truly inspirational. His energy is incredible, and it was wonderful to meet him and get a chance to have a quick conversation. The ceremony was also a great opportunity for some networking and some fun – it was a fantastic evening!
The following morning we had the unique privilege of getting Mr. Mustapha alone, just the IKEA team and him at a small breakfast gathering to ask him some questions and hear his story in more detail. It was very interesting to get more details from him and get some of our questions answered.
In the afternoon we had the chance to attend a meeting setup by the UNHCR to discuss how NGO’s like IKEA can support refugees in the private sector. We had the opportunity to present and show some of the work that we were doing in Switzerland and there were a few other presentations showing what other companies were doing, and some words from the UNHCR team. It was a very interesting afternoon.
Once goodbyes were said and we went our separate ways I took a tour of the UN Palais des Nations which was amazing – so cool to see the building, and then I took off to Bern where I would be staying for most of the rest of my trip at my friend Jana’s place which she very kindly offered to me! Thank you Jana!!!!
I got in a bit late so I didn’t have a lot of time to do anything, but I did take a wander around the city to re familiarize myself since it had been a couple years since I was here last.
Wednesday morning I was back in Geneva to take up an invitation from a couple of the UNHCR staff to get into the building – no way was I coming to Switzerland without getting a chance to see inside! Beautiful building and nice tour. I also had a chance to pickup some swag from the UNHCR gift shop (impossible to get online!). In the afternoon I hopped on the train and made my way from Geneva to Montreux by train. I had lunch in the city and enjoyed the area by the water very much before getting myself on the very cool Golden Pass Panoramic train through to Interlaken.
Lovely train, huge windows, incredible scenery. What more is there to really say? I got into Interlaken in the evening around 5:30pm, a city that many had told me about. It was starting to get dark so I didn’t have too much time but I did make my way up the cable car to Harder Kulm, an incredible, very steep 8 minute ride up the mountain. I was thinking of trying a quick hike but the sun was going down and my phone had died so I thought I’d play it safe and stick around. I got some great pictures of the sunset and spent a little over an hour up there before making my way down, grabbing some dinner to go and the train back to Bern.
Thursday I got to sleep in a bit (9ish) before getting up and starting the day. For some reason I had Basel in mind as a place to go thinking I’d be able to catch a boat there so off I went, catching the next train out there. The city is nice but nothing terribly special, I got myself lunch and ate by the water before finding out the next boat wouldn’t be for a few hours. I decided not to wait and ran off to my next stop in mind – Lucerne. This one played out very nicely.
Got to Lucerne and immediately found a boat station right outside of the train station and hopped on the first one I could find. There were two potential mountains to go up and I couldn’t quite decide which one to go on, so I let the boat decide for me. I was on the one heading towards Rigi. The boat ride was spectacular – visually stunning and a really nice ride. We arrived at the Rigi stop about an hour later and I hopped off and then on to a very cool cogwheel train that would take us up to the top of the mountain.
That trip took somewhere around an hour and was again visually stunning. Getting to the top was a bit chilly but not too bad – I did bring gloves, a hat and a warmer jacket so I was set. I set off exploring and of course found a little spot off the beaten track that I fell in love with. And I found out I could somewhat easily make my way around the side of the mountain… which seemed like a good idea when I started! About half way through I was starting to look down the very very steep cliff and somewhat regretting this plan when I reached a spot where they installed some cables for silly people like me to grab on to. Thank you for that!
I continued along my way, but I realized that there was no real path there – I don’t think they meant anyone to do this. But nonetheless, I don’t like turning around much so on I went! After the cable ran out I was slightly concerned but found my way through, finally making it across to a spot where I could climb up and only had to make my way over a fence with some spikes on it clearly meant to deter but not stop 😉 it was an exhilarating climb, and really quite beautiful!
The next train wasn’t for a while so I walked down about a quarter of the way until I reached a station that would soon be receiving the train, taking that down the rest of the way followed by some dinner and a nice train ride back to Bern.
Friday was my day to go on the Glacier Express, which meant an early wake-up and a trip to Brig by train to meet the Express one stop away from its starting point. I got on and was pleasantly surprised to get a window seat with an empty one next to mine (not what I booked!) and had a really amazing 7 hour journey up high to glaciers, through tunnels and with some all around incredible sights. I finished up in St. Moritiz around 4pm and was greeted by the hotels driver to pick me up and take me to the Waldhaus, the hotel I had won an auction for ($500 /night hotel for $100 /night!)
The hotel was… wow.
I was greeted at the door by the guest services manager, he knew my name and had me all checked in and ready to go with a signature. I was given a tour by one of the staff showing me all around the hotel and explaining some of the amazing history of the place. She took me up to the room and left me there with my jaw on the ground as I gazed outside at the view from my room on the fifth story.
It was really incredible. The pool and spa was by far my favourite thing there – just redone a year ago it was modern, it was beautiful, it was relaxing. I spent hours there over those three days. The food (breakfast and lunch was included!!) was amazing. Stuff I never would have ordered on my own but wow… so… so… so good. They had an in house library which I availed myself of (which would have made my sister incredibly jealous) and the lounge area had live music every afternoon and evening. What an incredible experience.
On Saturday I decided to go out hiking a bit – may as well do something to earn my time in the sauna. I wound up overdoing it a bit with a 13km hike around a small mountain and through the city just beneath the hotel… when I got near the end I found this incredible little lake which was just the most serene sight. It blew me away and just reminded me of the beauty of this country! Dinner that evening was again wonderful, and I managed to finish my book with the background of live music playing.
Sunday morning I had another dip in the spa which was very quiet, so I had the place to myself. A great way to wrap-up the visit. Checkout was 11:30 and I used up every minute! The car drove me back to the train station after a personal goodbye from the manager and I boarded the train heading to Zurich. I had lunch there around 2pm but with my luggage still with me I wasn’t in a mood to do much more so I hopped on the train back to Bern and returned to Jana’s place. Temporary home sweet home!
I dropped stuff off and went out into the city, the only time I’ve had much of a chance to wander around Bern in the daylight. I caught some dinner at a great pizza place before returning to the apartment and flaking out a bit. My feet and legs were still a little unhappy after my hike yesterday and it was time to pack.
Tomorrow I’ll be catching the train around 9 or 10 to Zurich and catching the plane home 🙁 I didn’t do everything I wanted to but I made a pretty good dent on seeing Switzerland! The Swiss Rail Pass was incredible and let me hop on any mode of public transportation I wanted going anywhere, and almost any museum for free (which I sadly didn’t take advantage of). The weather was great, the sights stunning. A truly wonderful trip.