Adventure in the Alps: My Favorite Spots in Switzerland

The first time I visited, I remember thinking that this was a long way to go for little reward. It was during my study abroad, and I, of course, was not the traveler I am today—meaning I did zero research and blindly got on a train, bus, plane, etc. and ended up in random places throughout Western Europe each weekend. That weekend was no different, leaving immediately after school let out on Thursday morning and embarking on a long journey to Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland—a place I knew absolutely nothing about. This quiet city was completely asleep when we arrived late at night and began the search in the dark for our hostel. What could this tiny, dark town have in store for us that was worth nearly 10 hours of travel? The next morning, the sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and there was a glorious waterfall directly outside our hostel.

Staubbach Falls

It was the start of my love affair with Switzerland. More often than not, it’s my answer to that question people love to ask: “What’s your favorite place you ever been?” The word kind of falls out of my mouth before my brain catches up—and each time I am a bit surprised. But then I’m quickly transported back to the storybook houses, snowcapped mountains, and endless trails beckoning us to explore further, higher, deeper.

After only a few days in the Lauterbrunnen Valley and nearby Interlaken, I knew this was a place I would visit again someday in the distant future. It seemed so off-the-beaten-path, so hard-to-reach in my mind. I had a difficult time believing that I could be standing there again only seven years later. I returned (this time with Kyle!) at the end of our very first European road trip in 2017, flying out of nearby Zurich (only 90 minutes by car).

Interlaken

Interlaken is for adventure lovers. It’s a charming but active town nestled between two lakes (Brienz and Thun), where the Alps rise up spectacularly from the ground and paragliders dot the skies. It sits in the shadow of three massive mountains: Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau, and is the true gateway to heart-pounding adventures, whether it’s skiing the slopes, or riding a railway to the place called the “Top of Europe.”

To get a beautiful bird’s-eye view of the lakes and the city in between, take the funicular up to Harder Kulm, Interlaken’s own mountain. Very quickly you’ll ascend 730 meters and feel like you’re on top of the world, gazing out of the landscape from the viewing platform complete with a glass floor. There’s a restaurant at the top reminiscent of the castle. Luckily for us, the funicular was located right behind our hotel, the palatial Linder Grand Hotel Beau Rivage.

While in town, make sure to try two tasty dishes for which Switzerland is famous. Raclette comes from the French word meaning “to scrape” and is a traditional Swiss melting cheese. It involves heating a section of cheese and scraping it off, leaving you with melted goodness on your plate. We enjoyed this dish at the top of Harder Kulm, paired with some fabulous hot chocolate. Which brings me to my next suggestion: fondue! You’ll find plenty of fondue options in Interlaken, and you will be able to enjoy cheese or chocolate fondue. My sweet tooth was delighted by the Swiss chocolate fondue we found at Des Alpes, just down the street from our hotel.

Lauterbrunnen

This picture-perfect spot is nestled in a valley full of hiking trails and 72 waterfalls. It’s easily accessible via train from Interlaken-Ost, as well as Bern and Lucerne. Meaning “many fountains,” Lauterbrunnen is famous for the beautiful 300-meter Staubbach Falls—the one I awoke to directly outside my hostel years ago. I could easily spend a blissful week exploring the hiking trails throughout this stunning valley.

Mürren


From Lauterbrunnen, you can take the cableway and an incredibly scenic train to the car-free town of Mürren. This tiny village lies at the foot of the Schilthorn mountain, which was made famous in the James Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, for which the ending is shot at the revolving restaurant atop Schilthorn. It can be accessed by cableway from Mürren.

Jungfraujoch

View from the train.

Although I still haven’t made it there, I am determined to one day go to the place called the “Top of Europe.” High in the Alps at 3,454 meters above sea level sits a viewing platform granting sweeping panoramic vistas of the majestic peaks for as far as the eye can see. The Jungfrau Railway is open year-round—although make sure to only embark on the journey in good viewing weather—and is relatively easily accessible from Interlaken Ost. Journey to Lauterbrunnen or Grindelwald on the Bernese Oberland Railway, and change to the Wengernalp rack railway bound for Kleine Scheidegg. From there, the Jungfrau Railway takes you directly to the Top of Europe. It takes about two hours to get there from Interlaken. If the incredible view isn’t enough, there are many attractions at the top like the Ice Palace, the Alpine Sensation which tells the story of how this railway was opened, and the Lindt Swiss Chocolate Heaven.

We love Switzerland!

This part of Switzerland is absolutely magical. It’s impossible to stand in the shadow of these mountains and not feel incredibly small, yet so grateful to be there to take it all in. It’s the kind of place that stays with you long after you leave, securing a place in your heart the never really melts away. I can’t wait to return!

Bonus: Lucerne

This city is one that’s typically a bit higher on Swiss bucket lists—and it’s only an hour’s drive from Interlaken. It’s really hard to follow-up the places we’d just visited, and while it doesn’t hold a candle to Lauterbrunnen, Lucerne has its own charms. It’s a bustling city with more than 80,000 inhabitants, nestled on the shores of Lake Lucerne—a beautiful body of water to check out via an afternoon cruise. Also, be sure to stroll across Chapel Bridge in the heart of town.

Places

Interlaken, Switzerland

Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

Mürren, Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

Sphinx-Observatorium, 3801 Fieschertal, Switzerland

Lucerne, Switzerland

Interlaken, Switzerland

Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

Mürren, Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

Sphinx-Observatorium, 3801 Fieschertal, Switzerland

Lucerne, Switzerland

Springtime in Amsterdam

From the maze of bridges and canals to the colorful, almost gingerbread-like houses and the ever-present aroma of cheese wafting through the air, Amsterdam is quirky, laid-back, and undeniably irresistible. I had always thought spring in Amsterdam sounded absolutely idyllic, and two years ago we visited over Easter. Although we weren’t in the city long, it’s one that continues to stay at the forefront of my mind, beckoning me back.

With Easter 2019 on the horizon, I thought I’d put together a guide to the top spring experiences in and around Amsterdam.

Keukenhof

If you’re lucky enough to be near Amsterdam during the eight weeks each year that this phenomenal garden is open, do yourself a favor and allot an entire day to walk amongst the 7 million flowers that are planted there annually. Located in Lisse, just a 20-minute bus ride from the Amsterdam airport, Keukenhof is known as the Garden of Europe, containing 800 varieties of tulips spread amongst 32 hectares of manicured gardens. We visited on Easter day, spending five hours soaking in the beauty and taking thousands of pictures. The striped fields of tulips that stretch as far as the eye can see are completely gorgeous, and the landscaped gardens are truly spectacular. Hundreds of gardeners plant bulbs in delicate patterns from giant tulip shapes to rivers that wind through the scenery. Gorgeous ponds complete the landscape, and pavilions offer displays of ornate and fanciful flowers. Keukenhof is an absolute must-include on any spring itinerary. I want to go back so badly, in fact, that I took a quick break from writing this paragraph to look up flights!

Combination entrance and bus ticket from Amsterdam Schiphol is €25 or €30 from Amsterdam per adult.

Zaanse Schans Windmill Village 

Visiting this charming village is like taking a step back in time—when windmills produced some of your essentials. A visit to Zaanse Schans gives you an idea of what it was like to live in the region in the 18th and 19th centuries. Windmills here helped produce products like linseed oil, paint, mustard, and paper. There’s also a very cool functioning sawmill. Nearly a million people visit Zaanse Schans each year, making it one of the Netherlands’ biggest attractions. This outdoor village complete with museums, gift shops, and six gorgeous windmills is included on lots of tours—we took this one with Viator—or it’s an easy drive or train ride from Amsterdam. If you can, I’d recommend visiting on your own, because we didn’t have nearly enough time.

Entrance fees apply for certain attractions visited.

Canal Tour

What could be more idyllic than floating down the picturesque canals that connect the city, passing houseboat after charming houseboat? It’s a memorable way to take in the city that’s been called the Venice of the North, spending a leisurely hour exploring the UNESCO protected canal ring. We bought a ticket on a hop-on hop-off boat tour, but there are many to choose from offering all types of experiences from family-friendly to intimate and romantic.

Cheese and Tulip Museums

No visit to Amsterdam is complete without visiting the Cheese Museum, located in Jordaan, just across from the Anne Frank House. For 600 years, the Dutch have been making cheeses that are recognized the world over, including Gouda and our new favorite, Edam. The cheese wheels outside beckon you in, and the promise of delicious samples of creamy cheese keep you there for a bit. Admission is free.

The Tulip Museum just down the street provides a look at the long, rich tradition of growing tulips in the Netherlands. The museum itself has a5 entrance fee, but the gift shop is extensive and worth a browse. After falling in love with tulips in Keukenhof, we wanted to take some home with us, and picked up some tulip bulbs that were pre-packaged with paperwork to get them through U.S. customs.

Visit Attractions and Save

There are so many other attractions to visit, including the Anne Frank House (for which you should purchase tickets weeks in advance), the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum. We could have easily spent five more days exploring the major sites of Amsterdam. If you have the time to make it worthwhile, purchase the I amsterdam City Card, providing access to popular museums, the zoo, cruises, public transportation, and more. It’s a great way to experience all the attractions for less.

Where to Stay

We rented an Airbnb in the heart of the Jordaan district, an absolute picture-perfect location known for its gorgeous architecture, excellent shopping, exquisite food, and local attractions. The street names are flowers and plants in this area, named after the French word Jardin, meaning garden. Some say the area is named after the Jordan River because many Jews fled to Amsterdam, like Anne Frank’s family—whose home is located in this district. Getting around Jordaan is quite easy. It’s extremely walkable, and even better if you have a bike! Ubers are readily available, providing easy access to the rest of the city.

My Love/Hate Relationship with Florence

Il Duomo
Il Duomo

Five years ago right now, you could have found me living on Via Sant’ Egidio, a couple of blocks away from il Duomo, in what has been consistently named the best city in the world. Since that time, I’ve had a passionate love/hate relationship with Florence, Italy. I absolutely despised it 95% of the time I called it home. But it’s the city that changed me. It made me who I am today. And recently, I got to go back.

Mia bella città.

Mia bella città.

When our train from Rome pulled into Santa Maria Novella, I had this deep sense of déjà vu. I’d been here many times before. I recognized the train station, the street outside. I knew exactly how to get to the Duomo, my school, my old apartment. I’d walked this road dozens of times. In a different life.

After checking into our AirBnb a few blocks away from the heart of the city, we set out to explore. I had a map in my purse, but I knew I wouldn’t need it. It had taken me two months of living in this city to finally figure it out, and it’s something that’s forever ingrained in my memory. Within minutes, I’d found the main building of Lorenzo de Medici, the American school I attended my last semester of college. It was the first stop of many on my road to rediscovery.

Next, we passed through Piazza della Repubblica, glancing up at the archway I walked through each morning on the way to school. I knew I was almost there. One more turn, and I would see it. The Duomo, in all its detailed glory. It really is a stunningly beautiful sight—the façade seemingly one giant work in cameo. So ornately decorated, almost dripping in sculpted beauty. This is the place I passed by every single day. I had tread these grounds before—only five years prior, but a lifetime ago. How could I not have appreciated this?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Within minutes, we’d made our way to my old apartment, a place we’d both been before. Kyle had visited me here briefly during his trip to Italy over our mid-semester break. We’d just gotten engaged in Venice, and we had one final night before he returned to America. We walked hand in hand through this city I felt held me captive. All I wanted was to go home with him. I would have given just about anything for a seat on that plane next to him. But I had to stay. I still had two more months to spend in this city I’d come to loathe. Two more months before college would end, and our life together would officially begin. I couldn’t wait for it to start.

My first apartment.

My first apartment.

But walking through this city again, revisiting all of the places I frequented, made me feel so nostalgic—yet so out of place. The city was still the same, but something inside me had changed. Over the last five years, I’ve completely romanticized my memories of Florence. They say hindsight is 20/20, and never in my life has that been more true of anything than my semester abroad.

This is the place that completely changed me, setting in motion everything that was to come. Before my study abroad, I’d never even set foot on a plane. I embarked on this crazy journey reluctantly, at the persuasion of my college roommates who chose to study abroad in Florence. Come with us, they said. It’ll be fun, they said. And so I got on that plane, heart in my throat, and my newly-printed, unstamped passport in hand. It was the beginning of my love affair with travel.

It was a surreal feeling, to find myself back in the city where I once felt like a prisoner, but now remember as the place that changed me for the better. I wanted to love it. I wanted to hate it. I wanted to feel it—to soak it in, and never let it go. I was overcome with nostalgia, and the need to recreate new memories with my husband.

Standing atop Piazzale Michelangelo, the only part of Florence I ever adored, I knew this spot would hold a special place in my heart forever. Somehow, we found ourselves surrounded by hundreds of people who gathered to watch the sunset cast golden hues over the birthplace of the Renaissance.

View from Piazzale Michelangelo.

View from Piazzale Michelangelo.

If there’s a reason to love Florence, this is it. There’s something magical about witnessing it all. We stayed for over an hour, and I snapped picture after picture of this city that had somehow twisted my heart more than anyplace on earth. I knew I’d never be able to put into words how standing there again made me feel, but I also knew I’d never ever forget it.

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

Even during dinner an hour later—the city aglow with streetlights and cigarettes—I felt entirely conflicted. As we sat enjoying a delicious Italian feast mere feet from the Duomo—one of the greatest, most recognizable structures on earth—I couldn’t fathom how I’d walked by this every single day, but never really looked at it. I felt completely ungrateful in that moment, and somehow I just couldn’t peel my eyes away—wanting desperately not to make that same mistake again. I had to use this single night to make up for the four months of missed opportunity.

Waking through the streets, I wondered aloud if somehow I liked the city more because I knew I was leaving the next day. I didn’t have to stay there for months this time—I was just a visitor passing through. Was that why I was finding it all so romantic?

The next day as the train pulled out of the station, I knew I’d had my fill of Florence for a very long time. Somehow in just over 24 hours, I’d managed to do more in the city than I had in four months of living there. I’d retraced my steps. I’d revisited old memories. And I’d made new ones—better ones to replace some of the negativity I’d packed in my suitcase and carried home with me.

Florence is a strange place. I’ve read a lot about it since I returned home from my study abroad, and somehow it always seems to be a hotly-contested destination. It has a way of yanking on people’s heartstrings. You either love it or you hate it. But for me—I feel very passionately persuaded in both directions.

I hate this city that pushed me out of my comfort zone and held me captive. I love this city for exactly the same reasons. I hate this city for its nonstop activity, pushy vendors, and labyrinth of streets. I love it for its energy, passionate people, and for the way you can get wonderfully lost in back alleyways and stumble upon something beautiful. I hate that this city is the most significant place I’ve ever been. But I love it because it changed me, opening my eyes and my heart to the world.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I don’t know when I’ll make it back to Florence, but I know it will forever be a huge part of my life. I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to this city I once called home. It forced me to grow up. It gave me my first taste of the unfamiliar. It persuaded me to see more. Over these last five years, I’ve learned that a bit of time and perspective changes everything. I’m so glad I got to see this city again through new eyes.

And I know I’ll be wonderfully conflicted with Florence for a very long time.

My Travel Wish for Those with Planted Feet

The Pantheon: My very favorite spot in Rome.
The Pantheon: My very favorite spot in Rome.

I wrote this right after getting back from our trip to Europe, and sat on it for a few weeks. After such an amazing adventure, I felt compelled to encourage others to experience it, too—moreso than I always do. So many people close to me have preconceived notions about travel. It’s expensive. It’s scary—dangerous, even. “It’s nice for you, but not for me.” But I want you to know it’s possible. And it’s something that I PROMISE you, you’ll never regret. So, here is my wish for all those whose feet seem glued to the ground. For those afraid to step beyond their comfort zones. For those who can’t even begin to fathom what they’re missing. 

Just go. Go see all the beauty in the world.

I wish I could string together the right combination of words to tell you about the beauty of the world. I wish I could show you the most amazing collection of images that would inspire you to go see it for yourself. I know you’re scared. I know you don’t think it’s possible. But the world is full of wonders just waiting for you to see them. If we were meant to stay in one place, we’d have roots instead of wings.

Rainbow over Costa Rica

I believe wholeheartedly that it’s true what they say: Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer. Standing in the presence of the Colosseum, I knew that no item I could put on a credit card would ever make me trade that moment. I was a richer person for having stood there, marveling at the magnificence of it all. It’s something I will carry with me forever.

I wish you could have those moments. I wish you could look out over the beauty of the Grand Canyon and realize how completely insignificant your place is in the world. I wish you could be moved in that moment, knowing it’s as if the Creator took a palette and a brush, and painted the most breathtaking scene for you to witness.

I wish you could stand atop the Acropolis, and look far out into the distant hills, where you can see the gouges of missing marble—marble used to build the Parthenon where you stand. I wish you could realize that civilizations centuries before you lived a completely different life, but made the most of their moment in time. They probably had no idea that their handiwork would one day attract millions of tourists with their cameras in tow. It makes you wonder what we’ll leave behind, at which future generations can marvel.

I wish you could stand beneath a cascading waterfall in Hawaii, and wonder about the journey the water has taken to get there. I wish you could look out over the Cliffs of Moher and feel as though you’re at the edge of the world. I wish you could see the Eiffel Tower light up at night, and fall head over heels in love with Paris. I wish you could get wonderfully lost in the streets of Florence. I wish you could take a road trip through the United States and marvel at the enormity—and beauty—of your own country. I wish you could watch orca whales glide effortlessly through the waterways of Alaska. I wish you could wake up to the howler monkeys that call Costa Rica home. I wish you could see the sun rise above the clouds from your window seat view on a plane, and know that you’re embarking upon a journey that will make you a better person than you were before.

I believe that the best stories are found between the pages of a passport. I believe that travel brings balance back into our lives. It gives us perspective; clarity. It makes us more tolerant of others. It provides us with a better education than we could hope to find in any classroom. It revitalizes. It invigorates. It has the power to change us.

I wish you believed me when I tell you it’s all possible for you, too. Travel doesn’t have to be expensive or extravagant. It just has to be meaningful. I wish I could convince you that our culture of instant gratification has a big impact on our means to travel. If you look at my pictures with envy, I wish I could convince you to reassess your priorities. If you really have the desire to travel, you can make it happen.

I know I’m lucky. I feel it each and every time I stand in the presence of something I’ve only seen in history books. My heart swells just a little. My breath catches in my throat. Sometimes I have to pinch myself just to make sure it isn’t all a dream.

I wish with all my heart you could experience it, too.

Where has Byte-Size been?

Light trails at the Colosseum.

Hi everyone! We just wanted to pop back and let everyone know that Byte-Size Travel is not gone. We’ve just fallen a bit behind after our recent trip (Kim wrote about our recent itinerary here).

If you’ve been following along on our social media accounts (especially Instagram), then you know that we had an amazing time in the Mediterranean. We’ve got some more great pictures that we’ll be sharing and Kyle has enough Landmark History articles to last him quite a while. Speaking of, we wanted to give you a rundown of all the things that are going to be happening here as 2015 comes to an end.

Beautiful door in Mykonos, Greece.

Beautiful door in Mykonos, Greece.

First, we have two more quick trips planned for this year. We’ll be going to Iceland in November and New York City again at Christmastime. Between these trips we’ll be posting more travel articles and sharing our journeys with you.

Kyle has another Digital Escapes article planned (though it may wait until after that trip to Iceland), a few more travel movie reviews, a few videos from previous trips to cut together (Yeah… I’ll get to that eventually) and of course, more Landmark History. Kim will be recapping each city we visited in Europe (11 in 20 days!), and will be sharing her thoughts on what it was like to go back to the city where she lived… five years later. She’s also planning to review her AMAZING new camera, the Sony A6000. Taking nearly 5,000 pictures in Europe was quite the way to break in her new toy!

Arc de Tripmohe, Paris.

Arc de Tripmohe, Paris.

Lastly, this month, Kyle will be making the effort to move our site’s hosting, so expect some downtime one of these weekends coming up. We’re not particularly pleased with our current host as the site is remarkably slow despite Kyle running through lists of best practices to double-check himself, calling our current host’s developer support and running numerous performance checks to track down and squash performance issues. Things have gotten better, but not good enough. We may have some downtime, but hopefully it’ll all be worth it as Byte-Size gets faster than ever before!

Thanks for your patience, and for sticking with us. As always, wishing you safe travels and lots of amazing adventures!

%d bloggers like this: