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Switzerland (southern & eastern Alps) 2005 & 2006

Bikes
    Bikes can be taken on some trains for about 10 SFr or $8 per day and put on the back of some buses in the summer.
    Most Swiss motorists are very careful with cyclists on the road.
    If possible, consider buying the German Bikeline route books rather than the highly unreliable Swiss "Veloland Schweiz".
        For more details regarding our disappointments with the Swiss-made bike route books, refer to our 2005 files #7 &
        #8, Switzerland, Parts I & II.
    Take your best rain gear.
    That being said, in 2006 we followed the national bike route #3 from Locarno on Lago Maggiore over the St Gottardo
        Pass with great success. We didn't buy a route book but followed the well posted route which was especially useful
        in dodging urban traffic. Routes 4 and 9 in the same general area were satisfactory also, though think nothing of
       dishing out sudden 15 and 25% grades on the route.

Internet Access & Websites
    Internet shops are rare and expensive ($12/hr) in the mountain villages.
    The voltage on the hotel telephone lines was too low for our laptop's modem to recognize.
    Some mountain villages did have accessible WiFi hotspots for our laptop. They were best found by walking around
        the streets and hotel corridors with with our laptop and continually instructing it to search for hotspots.   
         www.myswitzerland.com is a general site; www.veloland.ch covers the bike routes and has links to bike rentals; and
         www.ti.ch/di/pol  then select "viabilita online" has information about the mountain passes and road work, mostly in
         Ticino canton in the the southeast, but in Italian.

General
    Tipping is not expected.   
    Many hotel electrical outlets are recessed and narrow and require a small adapter with smaller diameter pins than the
       European standard plug.
    Feather pillows & comforters are the norm--a problem for those of us who are allergic to feathers.
    You can often request your room price without breakfast to save $5-10 per person per night.
    Hotels and villages tend to be very quiet and peaceful at night (at least in the summer).
    Many services are closed in May and November. The first 3 weeks in June is a good interval to be in Switzerland as
        enough lodging has reopened for the summer but almost all are offering low season rates.
    Switzerland is terribly expensive. Everything is pricey. Our grocery bill doubled.

A Supported Hike Over Splgen Pass (near San Bernardino Pass)
    In reading bits and pieces of the Italian and German descriptions, it looks like the "Via Spluga" might be a memorable hiking opportunity. It follows the old Roman road the "Via Mala" for part of the way as it travels north out of Thusis, traverses a purpose-built suspension bridge just for walkers over a deep ravine, and occasionally puts walkers on the old road we biked or adjacent to it. After cresting Splgen Pass, you walk down to Chiavenna in Italy. It wouldn't be a deep wilderness experience as I expect traffic noises wouldn't ever be far away--noises that are hard to escape in these deep, narrow valleys. But it looked like it was well signed and would give an opportunity to see  a 12th century church at Zillis, walk down the stairs lining another deep ravine, and perhaps take a dip in the mineral baths in the town spa at Andeer.
    We've seen booklets describing the journey and also a slick package deal that provides 5 nights of lodging with breakfast, 4 box lunches, daily baggage transport, route information, and entrance fees for some of the sights along the way. The prices range from 350 SF to 500 SF per person, depending upon whether you select 1, 2, or 3 star accommodations. Given that we were paying about 100 SF a night for 2 people, it seems like a reasonable price for the extras. info@viamalaferien.chwww.viaspluga.com, www.splugen.ch.  This package was available in  2006 from June 11 until October 15, which were also the dates that the Post bus operates in the area.
    A pleasant hotel we stayed at in the town of Splgen also offers similar package deals. That's the Hotel Suretta www.suretta.ch, info@suretta.ch. Their price was 450 SF for the 5 night option and had several 3 and 4 night options. Their flyer indicated the following details about time required and elevation changes for the 5 night option: Thusis-Andeer, 4.5 hrs & start at 720m - finish at 928m; Andeer-Splgen 6 hrs & finish at 1460 m; Splgen-Isola 6.5 hrs & go up 660m and go down 860 m; Isola-Chiavenna 6.5 hrs & go down 920 m.
    Being able to read German  would likely be a big help in using these resources.. After July 1 might be better as at least 1 little museum along the way doesn't open until July. Of course, doing it on your own would also be possible.
    Once in Italy, we found the Italian package deals for the Via Spluga. The prices were similar though the entrance fees included were for the Italian side attractions and their route when in the opposite direction--from Italy to Switzerland. www.valchiavenna.com

Hotels & Buses
    The "Swiss Budget Hotel" chain should be thought of as budget hotels for those residing in this, one on the wealthiest countries in the world, rather than as budget hotels in Switzerland.  Fortunately our price consciousness didn't have us bumping into the "shabby fleapits" that our guidebook warned of but we did consider the lodging very expensive.
    The Alpenhotel Schlssel in Andermatt in southeastern Switzerland is one hotel we looked forward to revisiting. We happened upon it in 2005 after a long, wet and cold day crossing Furka Pass and sought it out after an easier crossing of San Gottardo Pass in 2006. With terrific soundproofing between the spacious rooms, CNN on the TV, a refrigerator,  a big bath tub, a balcony with mountain views, a ski room for the bikes, English speaking hosts, and the town supermarket downstairs, we happily spent an extra night both years. At 110 SF it is reasonably priced by Swiss standards and a whole lot more pleasant and comfortable than most rooms we had for that price or more. They do have feather pillows and no synthetic back-ups but the host unhesitatingly provided a folded blanket within a fresh pillowcase, which is good enough for me. Now if they'd just come up with free Wifi.....  The hotel is located on the main street in the same building as the Coop supermarket: Gotthardstrasse 30, CH 6490 Andermatt; Tel 0041 (0) 41 888 7088; Fax 0041 (0) 41 888 7089; hotelschuessel@hotmail.com; www.hotelschluessel.com.
    Postal buses (what the regular buses are called) would be a great way to see Switzerland. The train routes are heavily advertised but they go through many long tunnels and avoid the high peaks with the most spectacular panoramas. Do check their availability before you set the dates for your trip as in 2006 the post bus serving Klausen Pass didn't begin service until July 1. Try www.postauto.ch for schedule information. The bus that we saw going over Splugen Pass was a blue STPS bus from Italy, rather than the familiar yellow Post bus of Switzerland with its logo stating it was from the province of Lombardo. I don't know if it is the only bus crossing the pass or if there is a Swiss bus also.

15 Day Swiss Rail Pass
   
Friends reported happily using this rail pass for a 2 week visit to Switzerland in September of 2007.  In addition to using it on the trains, the pass provided 50% discounts at the premium lifts such as Jungfrau, Matterhorn, and Mt Blanc. The  Swiss Pass also gave them free access to the bus system, boating transportation,  and free museum access as well as discounts at some musical events.  They considered it an excellent value.

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