From Ireland, we’ve continued on to Switzerland. First stop, Ringoldingen, a small mountain town just west of Erlenbach im Simmental. One of our goals on this trip is to experience life as the locals do as we travel around the world, and Ringoldingen, Switzerland allowed us to do just that. Once again, another small town and we’ve met another wonderful family. When we originally started planning our itinerary, we tried to selections to use as a home base that had bigger populations, in hopes that we’d have more opportunities to meet other children at parks/etc. So far though, it has been the smallest towns where we’ve made the most new friends. Ringoldingen was no exception. On our first day in town, we met a local family who was eager to show us their home.
Ringoldingen is a small mountain village about 20 miles south of Bern. Small may even be an overstatement. One bar/restaurant on the road through town, a train station serviced hourly by a “stop on request” regional train, a handful of of houses, and a few farms of dairy cows. It was the perfect place for us to experience life in a small Swiss mountain village.
Each morning, we’d rise to the ringing of cow bells and the smell of the crisp mountain air. A thunderstorm rolled through town on our first night. We were tucked away in our attic apartment with the windows open, enjoying the cool mountain air, listening to the sounds of the wind, rain & cowbells mixed in with the booming thunder and flashing lighting. I think we all had one of the soundest sleeps we’ve had on the trip so far.
While originally planning our itinerary, we tried to mix a few more populated areas into our itinerary in hopes that we’d have better chances to meet other families with kids in the cities with more people. So far, the exact opposite has held true- for the most part, the smaller the town, the closer we’ve become with some of the locals and the more friends the kids have made. Ringoldingen was no exception.
Behind our apartment, we found a family with three young children. The parents were so excited to share their piece of the world and give all of our kids a chance to play together. We joined them for a BBQ up in the mountains, walks through the forest in search of mushrooms, wild blueberries, strawberries, & raspberries, and on our last night in town, a very tasty cheese fondue in their home. It was great for all the kids to run and play while learning a few words in each others language, and nice for us to chat with the other adults.
Another piece of Swiss mountain life we experienced this week was our first visit to a doctor since leaving home. While we’d rather not need to visit any doctors while traveling, the Swiss are recognized as having one of the top medical services in the world, so better here than in some of our other destinations. Angela VI had a terrible sore throat. After a few days of no improvement, we thought we’d better get it checked out.
Luckily the doctor’s office we strolled into was able to fit us in; we had a very positive experience, she didn’t need any antibiotics and the cost wasn’t astronomical, much less than a visit at home. A couple days rest, and she was back on her feet.
Less than 45 minutes away of our small mountain town was Bern, the capitol city of Switzerland. We made time to break away from the country for a night in Bern at the Virtuoso property, the Bellevue Palace Hotel.
From the Bellevue Palace, you may explore the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site of the old town of Bern; the surrounding cheese, chocolate and confectionary factories; and venture out to the Alps, all within close reach. The hotel neighbors the Swiss Parliament Building and, as the official Guesthouse of the Swiss Confederation, it has hosted notable guests for more than 150 years. Our girls really enjoyed looking at all of the pictures in the restaurant showing the many queens from around the world who have stayed there.
Service at the hotel was exceptional, from top to bottom. The General Manager was very present in public areas, eager to engage with guests – even help with luggage. When we stay in properties where the General Managers are visible and willing to any task to help provide a nice experience for the guests, the service mindset usually is embodied by the entire staff. The Bellevue Palace hotel was no exception.
While in Bern and not enjoying the amenities in the luxurious hotel, we walked through the cobblestone streets of old town and explored the underground shops accessed by cellar doors, spent a couple hours in the Museum of Communication where we learned about the evolution of computers and cell phones through several interactive exhibits, observed an evening street music festival, and after three months on the road, found a place for the girls to get their hair cut.
After Ireland, we went to a different cute little place. We even met three kids. They were nice, but they didn’t talk much. They did let us borrow bikes and scooters.
On Friday, we played with them again. I got in a water trough thing. Angela did not, she went to the doctor because she had a really really sore throat. That day, the littlest boy kept shouting Superkid – It was so cute. Later that night, we joined them for a barbecue. There was a swing, rocks to climb on , hikes to go on . It was so much fun.
On Saturday, we went to a gondola ride up to the top of a mountain. there was a restaurant and a hike where we made our own path and looked at the good views. It was really pretty up there.
On Monday we started school. After school, we went on a walk with the kids. We picked blue berries raspberries, and strawberries. They were good. It started to rain so we got in the car and drove home. On Tuesday, we did school and that night, we had fondue with the kids. While we waited, we played and then we got to play a little more after dinner. I’ll miss the kids when we go on to our next stop.
In Bern, we got to stay in a big, fancy hotel that was so big, we didn’t even see half of it. We went to a museum for communication that was fun, but we got there not long before it closed, so couldn’t stay too long. We did find a really great Thai restaurant for lunch.
On our first day in Ringoldingen, we met three kids who played with us a lot. We rode scooters and did chalk drawings on our first day. The next day I got sick and had to take a train a few towns over to see a doctor and make sure I didn’t have strep. While waiting for the train, I threw up. The doctor said I didn’t have strep which we were glad, but while waiting to take the train back to our town, I threw up again. It wasn’t my day. The next day I rested, and then I was ready to explore.
We took about a mile walk to the gondola in the next town over and rode the gondola up to the top of the mountain to eat lunch. I was worried it would be food like McDonald’s, but it was surprisingly good.
The next day, we started school- so far, 4th grade is fun. That afternoon, we went with the family up into the mountain to a place where we could run. After playing tag on the side of the mountain, we found a giant rock that we could climb on and then into a cave. We then searched for wild berries.
On our last night in town, we went to the families house for fondue and to play with the kids some more. We ate the amazing cheese fondue, chased each other until we could barely walk and played on their bouncy horses. It was the best good-bye ever!
Many River cruises start or end in Basel, Switzerland. With Switzerland’s vast train network and multiple luxury properties, it is easy to spend a few days in the mountains before or after any cruise. Such an amazing compact country, and so easy to get from place to place, it’s a shame more people don’t spend at least a few extra days here when in the region.
Taking a tour with a small group provides the opportunity to experience the sites of Switzerlnad with other like-minded travelers on popular pre-designed itineraries. Let the tour companies organize the logistics, so you can “sit back, and enjoy the ride” Visit the top attractions during the best times and let someone else take care of planning all of the detials.