Discussion in 'Traveling Abroad' started by ralphrepo, May 31, 2023.

  1. ralphrepo

    ralphrepo Well-Known Member

    Finally retired about a year now and decided to see the world while I can still walk, LOL...

    Just got back from two weeks in Switzerland. That country is beautiful as well as Punctual with a capital P. And their public transport system puts everything else around the world to shame. Everything is seamless and easy to understand, even for a foreigner. We took multiple trains, buses and boats and didn't get lost, not even once.

    At any rate, went to Lucerne, Bern, Zurich, Interlaken, Jungfraujoch, Grindelwald, Zematt and Chur; also took the Glacier Express. The old town areas of the larger cities are charmingly beautiful. All the old buildings seemed to retrofitted with modern renovations. Ran in to a quite a few Chinese restaurants too. Though the Chinese food left a lot to be desired (stuff was horrible). We also went to Vietnamese restaurant and the food was great.

    We bought Swiss Travel Passes, which allowed us unlimited public transport (except for special locations, where it afforded us good discounts). When they checked our tickets, they scan the QR code on our phones. They're also required to confirm your identity from your passport, but in practice, only one conductor asked to see our passports. Any who plan traveling there via extensive use of public transport should get one. The time and hassle that one saves (from not standing on ticket lines or dealing with ticket machines) is worth the price alone. Oh, and note, for foreigners, it is the Swiss "Travel" Pass. For Swiss nationals or residents, there is another similar item called Swiss Pass. Do not confuse one for the other.

    Before we went, we downloaded several apps put out by the Swiss government that details maps and train schedules. The one on schedules is a must have. It literally allows you to look up any train, bus, or boat in the country. It even tells you the platform or dock the vehicle or vessel departs from, and where the first and second class compartments are. After riding the public transports there, NYC's MTA seems like something out of the stone age.

    Oh, and BTW, for those that want to recoup the VAT (Value Added Tax) because we're not Europeans? Well, the truth is, it isn't even worth it. Technically, we can reclaim the VAT (about 7%) back at the airport. But there's a catch; you have to take all the items that you're reclaiming VAT to the Swiss customs office at the airport and show the customs official there not only the receipt but the actual items that you're claiming the credit for so that they can verify that it is leaving the country and not for Swiss internal use. Each receipt has to be at least CHF 350. Further, the agency that processes the claim will also assess a percentage charge for their service. Altogether, the total VAT credit we could claim was less than $50 USD. It would have taken us the better part of two hours to get to the customs office and process through the whole thing. Frankly, I think they purposely designed it that way so that people wouldn't file any claims because it's too much of a hassle. So unless someone is buying a Rolex, it's hardly worth the time.We decided to skip it.

    The one bad thing? Delta Airlines in Switzerland is bad. First off, the check in agents were obviously new. They had a supervising person hovering over them and they were slow with everything. The woman who was checking us mistakenly thought we were a group of four (we were three) and one of which was named Ahmed? After scrolling through several screens I can see that it finally dawned on her that we were only three and Ahmed belonged to another group. Next, we were a few pounds over so they charged us an extra $75 per luggage. The phraseology and verbal responses were textbook airline speak and I could tell that she just graduated from their training. I gave her my credit card and she couldn't get the card to work and futzed with it for another five minutes. Now in the meanwhile there's a whole flight of passengers on the line behind me and they're starting to make those dissatisfied customer noises. Finally the trainer came over and pressed a few buttons and we were on our way to the gate.

    The flight was uneventful. A very nice girl allowed me to switch seats with her so that I could sit next to the missus. The princess sat behind us. The food wasn't bad at all. Oh, and speaking of food, Mrs Ralph fell in love with Chicken Roll. Not many people in the US eat this any more as it's mostly sold now as dog food. Years ago, when I was growing up in the late 50's and early 60's, chicken roll (chicken parts, filler mixed with gelatin and bound together into a tube that was then sliced like ham, a sort of chicken flavored baloney) was sold as an economical food choice for people on budgets. It lost its attractiveness as turkey breast became more popular and hardly anyone (except for old guys like me) knows what it is today. Well, the Europeans still have this and the missus 'discovered' it at the breakfast buffets (can you feel my eyes rolling here?). So now that we've come home, she has me looking high and low for this stuff. She says it's a wonderful flavor, much better than turkey breast cold cuts. I can't argue because I've always preferred Spiced Ham over regular ham. Spiced ham is an economical version as pork scraps and filler are put into a gelatin and molded into a brick (like Spam), then sliced.

    And a final note; the US immigration service has gotten really really efficient. I remember just two years ago, returning from Toronto, we had to wait in line and they scanned our passports. Now? As I handed my passport to the officer, he didn't even open it yet and said, "Welcome home, Ralph..." and waved me through. The missus and princess behind me followed the same way. All three of us took less than 10 seconds, but still he greeted us all by our first names. So in other words, they have a system in place now that had identified all the passengers, their faces and as soon as you walk into view, it probably flashed up on a computer screen so the officer knows your identity before you even get to the desk. Say what you may about facial recognition (pros or cons) but in this case the system worked. They also didn't even check anyone's luggage. Probably because Switzerland isn't a smuggler or drug courier source country. Besides, everything there is expensive so there's not real motivation to avoid customs duties.

    Glad we went. The missus is now hankering to go some place else (another eye roll)...

    #1 ralphrepo, May 31, 2023
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2023
  2. demoniac

    demoniac Well-Known Member

    great vacation you got there! its a very beautiful country. thanks for sharing your story